Beholding the high-fenced environment of Kirikiri Prisons is enough to make one appreciate freedom. And seeing the inmates being remembered by those lucky enough to enjoy freedom could be quite emotional, especially for the inmates.
That was the case recently when members of a non-governmental organisation, Virtuous Sisters, visited both the male and female wings of the prisons, with lots of food, drinks and toiletries to share.
Looking around the correctional centre, you could see some facilities, including an ICT centre and a church facilitated by the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), a volleyball court, a mosque and a study centre established by the National Open University (NOUN).
In an opening address by one of the officials of the prison, who asked not to be named, what used to be called a prison is now a correctional centre, which seeks to make inmates better persons before being re-integrated into the larger society.
“When you visit this place, your perception will change because it is no longer a prison per se but now a custodian centre for correctional services.
“Here, we have all forms of handiwork like tailoring, carpentry, laundry and so on. For as long as the inmates are here, they can be self-dependent. We also have schools, primary, secondary and the National Open University (NOUN).
“We will appreciate if you can help some inmates on legal representation. Some of them just wrote the West African School Certificate Examinations (WASCE) and some just resumed at NOUN. We need stationery too. If you can help, we will be very grateful. Some of them are ignorant of the offences they committed. That is why we are appealing to you to support in whatever way. We appreciate your coming and we thank you all,” he said.
The group, numbering up to 30 members, told our correspondent that the visit was in the spirit of love and oneness, as its motto reads.
Addressing the inmates, the administrator of the NGO, Sharon Onwuagba, expressed optimism in the inmates regaining freedom soon.
“Upon our visit today, we know that the Almighty God will grant you all your heart’s desires. We are a group of friends by the name Virtuous Sisters. We usually visit different homes once in a while because we love to put smiles on the faces of people. Our visit today was to mark our administrator’s birthday. So, we thought of visiting both the male and female inmates here in Kirikiri.
“We are happy that we visited the inmates because it has given us a wider knowledge of things they need and also how best we can help to encourage them academically. And, by God’s grace, we will plan our next visit with items related to what they need more,” Onwuagba said.
Lending credence to the points of the earlier speaker, the coordinator of the visit, Sarah Mokwe, said: “We have been to both male and female wards of the prison and we declared the same thing. We hope and pray that, before this year runs out, God would have helped you all to regain your freedom. Just have that faith and don’t worry.”
One of the inmates had already bagged a bachelor’s degree in prison, and this soon became the talking point during the visit.
The young man, who appeared to be in his 30s, spoke articulately. Even though he would want to remain anonymous, he thanked the group for the gesture, while making more demands on behalf of his co-inmates.
Said he: “I just bagged my B.Sc in Entrepreneurship and Business Studies. I don’t know what prompted you to be here; maybe you came to see prisoners. Are we prisoners?” And his fellow inmates chorused a loud and long “No!”
He continued: “I want to tell you that we are going out there to achieve great things. This is a correctional centre. We can’t be talking about what brought us here but we take it in good faith. We thank you all for making it down here.”
In a rather hysterical mood with fists pointing to their visitors, all the inmates echoed, “God bless you, God bless you, God bless you.” They then started a song, “We believe we shall be somebody tomorrow.”