Recently I spent a day in jail. On July 28th I awoke early in the morning and traveled by matatu to prison on Nairobi's industrial east side. As I alighted from the vehicle, my escort pushed us past a series of Kenyan soldiers and inside the compound. It was dusty and hot, and as we dodged chickens and goats along the path we approached two main prisons: one for petty thieves with short-term sentences, and the other for violent and hardened criminals. Fortunately, we were headed for the small jail (or "jaila ndogo"). I was there to visit my girlfriend. . .and her family.
Lucy has been in jail most of her life. In fact, she grew up in a prison where her dad has worked as a chaplain for the last three decades. In Kenya, all prison wardens, guards, and employees live in government housing on site. The compound I visited was home to an estimated 2000 families, and was complete with a nursery school, hospital, two churches, and a host of small businesses. It was village in and of itself and had a strong sense of community and an unexpected serenity. Children were playing outdoors. Cobblers and barbers and vendors were busy with their trades, and small groups of women were chatting and hanging laundry. In the midst of it all, prisoners marched around in black and white striped jumpsuits.