17-04-2022 by Freddie del Curatolo
They ask you for soap and cigarettes, just like in the movies.
Those who know Mtangani's prisons know that there is no feature film that can tell the story without leaving you feeling disoriented and nauseous.
Without anger, without indignation.
Just impotent disgust.
Even the Turkish prisons in "Midnight Escape" were more poetic.
Do you even imagine that your calloused, uneven fingers can lean against the iron bars, that a little air passes between the cell and the corridor, together with the guard tapping on the locks with the bar.
Heavy air that moves, like in the compartments of a southern train when you leave the sliding door open.
A shred of bunk or two bunk beds, a squeaky chair, a micro table or a shelf for personal belongings.
At Mtangani, the Malindi prison, there is none of this.
The inmates spend their endless hours in masonry monoblocks, with narrow slits through which the light comes in and sheet metal roofs that bake their thoughts.
In summer the temperature reaches fifty degrees, when it rains the water invades the floor, which is also the bed. In one corner, the toilet.
Ten square meters of large room, ten ex-men inside.
It's logical to catch them laughing, in the break of the forced but quiet work at the Alaskan stadium.
The cigarettes, unfiltered roosters, have been seized by the guards.
He says they have to check them.
"A white guy bought them," we try to tell him, "there's no filter."
With the crushed glass wool they could make a razor blade.
Although here they don't use to cut their wrists.
"Here, they'll keep at least half of them," says Karisa, who speaks good Italian and knows me.
"You had a restaurant, I even came to ask you for work."
"Yeah...but I can't hire everyone."
"And I made mistakes afterwards"
The guards take him back.
Shut up and work.
We wanted the inmates to rearrange the playing field at the end of the season.
Tasks that any unskilled laborer could have done, but the chance to let some sky breathe, flashes of normal communication and stories of the world outside the monoblock, was too tempting.
Thanks to the Karibuni Onlus, which has always supported us in our social projects with a sports background (or vice versa), for a few days Karisa and eight other prisoners will have a decent lunch and some fresh milk to drink.
"In six months I'm out," he says in Italian. He was selling something illegal to tourists on the beach.
"When I get out I'll get my license..."
There are also those who won't be getting out anytime soon.
The looks look like taximeters, they dig at you and would like to commit the last robbery, snatch your freedom and go and secretly enjoy it somewhere. To play it for women and beer, to buy a few kilos of rice and beans to give a special week to an expectant wife and to children never seen growing up.
They wrap the barbed wire, the net that marked the camp. Juma has his eyes elsewhere and the Islamic kofia on his head. He grabs an iron stick to uproot the net from the posts.
The guard slings his rifle.
He looks around.
He knows there is only one way out, and he does not contemplate continuing to live.
He lowers his gaze and goes back to work.
Riccardo has brought them antibiotics and ointments for the sores.
John Ochieng lifts his striped pants to his knee and discovers his battered shin.
Scars, bugs, scabies remnants.
Mtangani's dangerous friendships.
We hand the packs to the prison doctor.
"For the inmates, please..."
Tomorrow they will return, but it is not known if they will be the same.
Then there is the risk that they will get a taste for it.
Like with soap, like with cigarettes.
Look how they laugh.
Maybe then they'll end up loving life again....
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