The Day We Visited Two Prisons

(The Good, the SAD, and the Ugly – part 2)




Unfortunately optimism often is caused by the lack of information…

That was exactly the case when we met the Norwegian ambassador in Lilongwe last month, and heard the good, but fairly old news about how our article had given Norwegian authorities a push to put pressure on Malawian authorities, finally leading to the kids being transferred from Maula to Kachere Juvenile Prison for young male offenders. GREAT, we thought. And everything was great until we found ourselves behind the barb wired walls of Kachere. This small prison is located in Lilongwe City Centre and serves the central region of Malawi. It was built in the 1930s. Today Kachere holds 167 prisoners – this is approximately twice as many prisoners as it was built for.

So the “improvement” was that the kids were moved from one hell-hole to another. All the boys are gathered in the yard when we arrive. They line up and greet us before they return to their routine of doing nothing. 167 pairs of eyes are witching us with a mixture of hatred and curiosity. Who are these mzungus? What do they want?

Like always we want the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Unfortunately the truth we fond wasn’t what we had hoped for. In a corner away from the crowd a skinny boy is sitting on the dusty ground. His face is grim with pain, and he is holding his right leg. His shinbone must be broken.

We greet him the traditional way, by asking him “how are you”?

–Fine, the boy replies with his eyes fixed on an invisible spot somewhere behind the walls that surround him.

–Are you really?

–No, he admits, my leg hurt. I can’t sleep at night and I can’t walk, and I haven’t received any medical treatment.

He tells us his name is Peter, and that he is 16. Sentenced to two years in prison for stealing a bicycle.

–I was caught two months ago, and beaten by the police. The leg broke when one of the officers hit me over my shin with his baton, Peter tells us. The teenager stays in cell # 4 together with 24 others. They have some 20 square meters to share, which gives them slightly more space than the boys we interviewed in 2003.

The guards tell us how difficult it is to run a prison with next to no funding. There are a few classrooms where some education is offered, and the NGO Music Crossroads are visiting the prison on a weekly basis providing some jolly sessions of singing and dancing. But apart from that there is nothing to do. Today there is no corn flour left, and therefore no food. Not “just a little food”, or “insufficient amounts of food”, but no food what so ever. Normally the kids are fed once a day. But when the food supplies from the government fails and the management has no money it means a day of starvation for the boys behind bars.

We have seen enough. Our optimism is effectively wiped away. We have no reason to brag about our contribution to improved conditions for young criminal offenders in Malawi.

We decide we want to see Maula as well, the jail where we first met Malawian prisoners. The prison for adults is just a few kilometers away from Kachere. Maula was built to accommodate 700 detainees. Today it houses about 2000. We are allowed in under the condition that we don’t take any pictures, and don’t talk to any of the prisoners. The feeling of déjà vu is striking. The high fences with barbed wire on top, the empty faces of people with nothing to do all day but waiting is exactly as gloomy as we remember them, from our previous visit. A quick walk around the dirty yard convinces us that it would make headlines in western media if we treated our animals this way.


19 Responses to “The Day We Visited Two Prisons”

  1. This is so sad but at least you have made inroads in highlighting such a situation detailing the tragedy that is the simple want of corn, and a bicycle . . . .

  2. It is deeply saddening to learn about these concentration camps. Abandon hope, all ye who enter here?

  3. […] For the whole story and pictures have a look at Øystein & Otto’s blog. […]

  4. Our government sends billions to Africa every year, as do the charities here. The UK is not alone of course, many many other countries do the same. It is tragic that so much goodwill brings about so little change.

  5. I’m not sure if it is appropriate to print like on an article as thought provoking and disturbing as this… but, Otto and Øystein you do an amazing job highlighting the situation for these boys and men. Hopefully someone or some institution who are in a position to do something will read this and react.

  6. Depressing reading, I am glad you are undertaking this but it is terrible that such places exist and it must be awful fully realising the reality

  7. Heartbreaking, depressing and futile on so many levels.

  8. You are right. It would make headlines…it does everyday…if we treated our animals like that.
    I appreciate you trying to bring attention to the situation even if it does seem futile. Someone has to care.

  9. Martina Says:

    An eye opener for sure, their crimes don’t fit the punishment. Stealing a bike?

  10. Just reading a book now that describes the plight of animals in a slum being brought to the world’s attention but the people are ignored and one of the residents remarks that the animals were well treated compared to others and envied by most of the people.Maybe the best solutions will come from those who have made changes from within and we richer countries can help to support the progress but need to get through the layers of corruption…

  11. Very sad story. Unfortunately, not surprising. But we will have to continue to fight for justice and equality – not least in the poorest countries. Your contribution is important in this fight.

  12. Too bad, very much too bad. And what could we do?

  13. Even with the first photo, I already dreaded what the post was going to reveal. This is inhumane.

  14. waterkat Says:

    Even without optimism, you’re giving these men and boys a voice. Without a voice, what hope can there be?

  15. maybe it is time to make the headlines…what is there to lose? there must be a way to help activate reform if not for the adults but at least the children in prison.

  16. I too didn’t want to tick the Like button as the information contained is so graphically upsetting. How awful to sit all day with nothing to do and not even a meager meal to look forward too. Thank you for making us all more aware of situations like these and being more grateful for being born in another place. One feels so helpless.

  17. How tragic, all round. One can only hope that reporting like yours will exert an influence in some way…

  18. It has the such as you understand my head! A person looks to learn a great deal with this, as you wrote the particular guide there or something that is. I have faith that you only can make use of some per cent to be able to demand the message household somewhat, having said that besides that, that is definitely amazing blog site. A great examine. Let me undoubtedly return to their office.

  19. Greg Barton Says:

    I’m confused and concerned about your intentions with your blogs about Maula and Kachere. Do you really think that by parachuting in and out of situations like the ones you are reporting on here is going to make life easier of more difficult for those NGO’s working on the ground?

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