Monthly Archives: July 2017

campaigns

And into my little house

Blare the praise songs of the mighty

Those to whom I am a small louse

Send out their noise nightly

I can hear them

Even if you can’t

I know who to blame

It must be that…nah I can’t

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the dance

After a Shakespearean series of tragedies and misadventures I ended up at the Court Users Committee annual get together last week. It was being run to bring together all users of the Milimani Criminal Courts for bonding and a greater understanding.

 

I took a seat at the front to watch the dancers who began the ceremonies. Dressed in their sisal skirts and blessed with their rhythmic bodies they shook and slid for us. Then there was a talk by someone or other. Followed by a dialogue between two prisoners from Langata Women’s Prison. Part of the dialogue consisted of the sad fact that there are three crimes in Kenya that attract a mandatory death penalty: treason, murder, and robbery with violence. This means that if you are found guilty of any of these three then the magistrate’s or judge’s hands are tied and the circumstances don’t matter. They are not allowed to judge just how guilty you are, they have to sentence you to be hang by the neck until you die.

 

We haven’t prosecuted anyone for treason for a long time. When it comes to murder, well humanity agrees, in its sense of justice or perhaps overblown arrogance, that killing one of us is the worst thing we can possibly do. In fact so many of us believe it is so bad that the only way to remedy it is to do it again. Then there is robbery with violence. I still believe this is the most unjust law ever to grace our penal system. If someone steals from you and is either in the company of others, or harms you, or threatens to harm you immediately before or after the theft then they are guilty of robbery with violence. If they threaten to harm you they can be sentenced to death. The only way to commit theft is through threats of violence without this it is charity, it is obtaining money by false pretences, it is burglary, well pick-pockets I guess are still prosecuted for theft. Anyone else, anyone else who ever stole from you can be sentenced to death. In September last year a court in this country found that particular offence unconstitutional-then they suspended their judgement for 18 months to give the executive branch some time to get their shit together. They can suspend judgements? Apparently. What happens to anyone attracting this heinous sentence between then and March, 2018? Well if we begin following our laws we will hang them by the neck until they die. And where are they kept as they wait?

 

In Kamiti Maximum Prison. This is a place they are let out of every once in a while, if they happen to have an artistic bend in their body and there is a court user’s committee going on then they may be let out to come and sing and dance and entertain the prosecutors, magistrates, policemen, passers-by, well-wishers, judges, court-staff, and prison officers who attend this event.

 

They may even be allowed to sing. And in the song they thanked the justice system and the judge sitting right there for sending them to jail. They said thank you because they were going down a wrong path and now they would be rehabilitated. They sang a song of warning to those who would steal sadaka (church offering) and buy sweets with it. This was the first crime in a litany that took that young thief to Kamiti Maximum Prison but they told that young child that this was not the end. Imagine that.

 

There were three dancers. They had moves, they slid this way and that, their legs in unison, smiles plastered on their faces, just enough of a misstep between them that we could enjoy their individuality without breaking out of rhythm. They made me think that human beings should maintain prisons for no other reason than to test the resilience of the human spirit. These men had been sentenced to death. It was commuted by the President so they will just live in jail until they die. Yet somehow they practised, and somehow they wrote, and somehow they choreographed. Here they stood at the end of all of these and they smiled and dance and they took their bows. A rose will rise from concrete and an art from suffering, and for that maybe we should keep prisons.

 

Yet.

 

They sang thank yous to the ones who sentenced them to death. They thanked the judge and it broke my heart to see this. Prison is one of the worst human experiences we have. Your life at that point is formulated into small, precise steps taken inside a grey, formless place overseen by powerful, human guards. When to eat and when to pee are decided upon. The warmth of human touch is denied. Love is withheld. Family is locked out. Sex when it happens is either covert or forced. You look around the walls of that prison and know that this is it for you. Then you are told that there is a court users committee and they want you to perform. So you write your song and do your dance. This song and dance has to please the supreme authority that the guards are. The guards pay obeisance to the judge and he needs to hear sweet, sweet lies, its his day off after all.

 

So they are brought out and they thank the justice system for sentencing them to death and locking them up forever. We sit and watch and smile and play fools in this fucking farce that is the human justice system. Everyone knows that it is broken, everyone knows its been destroyed. From the smiling prisoner who is seeing Nairobi for the first time in years to the grizzled judge who has been at this for decades to the warden as he dances with his wards. We all know that we are brought together by injustice. And, yes there is a reason for these places. People do kill and steal, people do rape and act in hate. There is a need for places like this where we tie up those who would tie the rest of us up there is and I know this but…

 

…our laws have such a thing as robbery with violence and suspended judgements and peoples lives have such bad luck as to be charged with that in the next 9 months. And putting these people away doesn’t bring back what was lost, it doesn’t even seem to act as a deterrent. It makes me sure that justice is not the work of humans.

 

All we know are laws. We are taught from a young age that there is something out there from which justice radiates. Something omnipotent, something omniscient. And when we are told this we know that justice is his job and nobody else’s. We prostate ourselves at his feet because all we know are laws and we can never be just, not really, not with all of our errors. And yet the lord above seems to have abdicated his duty. he has turned his back on us and on justice and we must now use laws. We must use laws to maintain peace as best we can, we must take his place, we must ask people to take his place even though we know what people are:  criminals. And we play this farce where someone does something and is punished according to his crime, we sing and dance and say that what we are doing is right, that we all deserve to be in this prison yet behind those plastered on smiles we are all breaking because we can hear the news, and we can see the world, and deep inside we know we will never, ever get it right.

 

After these guys  6 ladies from Langata Women’s Prison came to dance. As I watched the men dance I sat and thought of injustice and the broken ladder of Jacob we try to climb so we can sit on the throne above. When the women came to dance it was visions of Delilah, Bathsheba, Salome and Magdalene. It was a group of six and I vividly remember two of them, all had their hair done right, these two were so beautiful though. They’d flash their smiles as they danced and wipe away thoughts. When they turned around and shook my head shook with them. They went forth into the crowd with the honoured guests and pulled them up. They danced with these old men and these old men danced with these young women. The men were conscious of where they were and who they are and so they hid it well. They hid well the lust that beauty and especially young beauty inspires. One of them began shaking her waist slowly moving it down and then up again, seamlessly turning her body into a wave, into a ride, into a promise.

 

While the women danced all I could think about was them and their dance. Sensuality and sex, the anticipation and satisfaction that exists thanks to the female form is so powerful. In a minute it pulled my mind from an abyss considering cells and loss of freedom and set it free in a realm of imagination and desire. Just the sight of this beauty brought me from considerations of hell that had my face scrunched up in all these frowns to glimpses of heaven, a heaven populated with angels. It’s not something I understand but I hope that we have all felt that pull towards a person. That pull that says there is something divine hidden somewhere inside her and that just the search for it will remove all earthly considerations from mind.

 

Let’s say that God is not omnipotent but just extraordinarily powerful. Powerful enough to create the whole universe around us but not enough to make it a paradise. If he is just powerful enough that he cannot wipe away all our miseries despite how much he wants to. If he is not powerful enough to be justice at all times to all people at least he thought to include beauty in his design. At least he was powerful enough to create something within us that responds to something without and wipes away all the faults of the earth for an instant. An instant of paradise is enough for a hallelujah.

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