“Prison continues, on those who are entrusted to it, a work begun elsewhere, which the whole of society pursues on each individual through innumerable mechanisms of discipline.”- Michel Foucault
We had prisoners working on the farm today. They were clearing up the swamp area where the old man is going to plant rice. Twenty in total with four guards, two of them armed. Nineteen went to work in the field while one of them stayed behind to prepare their breakfast and lunch. You pay the prison service to get them to come and work for you, and as well as paying, you also have to feed them. I think it’s a really good idea. Not only do they get a day out working in the community, the prison service also generates some much needed funds to keep the institution running. Of course none of the money goes to the individual prisoners.
The guy who stayed behind to cook their food was quite a character. He is seventy four years old. He has been in prison for the last two years and is due out in eighteen months. He was sent down for killing someone which he claims was in self-defence. Apparently, he came home one day to find his wives and kids being attacked by a gang of thugs and so he grabbed his gun and shot one of them. He was a soldier, hence the gun. The courts obviously didn’t believe his version of events, hence the sentence. He seems completely institutionalised already and I think that he will have difficulty adjusting when he is released.
My man has caused a whole load of wahala on the farm. First, he kept complaining that the ingredients for the meals he was to prepare was not enough. Then, he made Robinna (the maid) cry as he kept criticizing her every decision. In the end, I told him to come to me if he needed anything. The old man says that next time he ‘employs’ prisoners he will specifically request that my man is not included.
The majority of the prisoners are young men. Most are in prison for petty crimes or for alleged crimes that they have not been charged for yet. The judicial system is so clogged up that an accused person can spend almost five years in prison before the case against them is brought to court.
The other surprising thing I discovered is the number of prisoners incarcerated for so-called defilement crimes. The age of consent in Uganda is 18. So anyone caught having sex with someone younger can be arrested for defiling the underage person. It used to be that only girls could be defiled, but the law has been amended to catch the cases where, say, a female teacher take advantage of a young male student and so on.
In most instances in Lira, the girl’s parents will not press charges if the guy pays a fine. Where the guy does not have money he will most certainly end up in prison. I have heard of cases of entrapment where a girl is schooled in how to seduce a guy. Afterwards he is threatened with being reported to the police unless he pays a large sum of money. What’s worse, corrupting the morals of a minor or extortion? It makes me think that some people should not be allowed to have children! The one thing I am not clear about is what happens where both consenting parties are under 18. Does the elder underage person get charged? What happens if they are exactly the same age?