Omar Ismael, 64, was convicted for defiling a 13-year-old girl in 2007. The only evidence was her word against his.

The former artist spent 10 years in prison telling everybody he was innocent and appealing to the higher court to review his case.

“In 2017 I was released through a lengthy and costly appeal,” Ismael said. 

He served his sentence in four prisons – Kamiti, Industrial area, Kitengela and Manyani.

He, however, says Manyani Prisons was his worst prison. He served in Manyani prisons for one year between 2016-2017.

“I served Manyani for one year and I almost died,” he said.

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A sufuria in Manyani prison

Ismael recounts how he ate rotten beans and uncooked maize that almost led to his demise.

“I had a serious stomach disorder. You can imagine at 62 years with prison conditions. Any sickness took a toll on me,” he said.

He was rushed to hospital in a very critical condition and luckily survived.

“I was a known maestro artist, so the word went round I was dead. I thought I would die for I witnessed six people die three days after joining the prison,” he said. 

Manyani Prison officer-in-charge Bison Madegwa in a phone call interview with the Star, howeversays the facility’s conditions have improved.

“Inmates now live to our best of standards. They are comfortable,” Madegwa said

Joseph Irungu, alias Jowie, was this week transferred to Manyani Maximum Security Prison in Voi.

According to a senior officer who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal, Jowie was transferred from Kamiti to Manyani prisons after he was found with contraband during a random search.

Photos of the hard life Jowie will experience inside Manyani Prison

HARSH EXPERIENCE

Enter a prison and brace yourself for the harsh experience of inmates imprisoned in colonial times.

Not much has changed since the 1900s in terms of facilities and, many say in treatment.

Prisoner’s spend a few hours outside on the yard

ABOUT MANYANI

Manyani prison is the fifth largest maximum prison in Kenya located in the harsh wilderness of Tsavo National Park in Taita Taveta County.

It was established in the early 1950s by the British colonial government as a holding camp for Mau Mau detainees.

At some point, it held nearly 15,0000 Mau Mau suspects. Today, it’s one of the most dreadful prisons in the country.

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HOMOSEXUALITY

Ismael says when prisoners arrive at Manyani, prisoners ‘bid’ for new inmates with the highest bidder turning the ‘newbie’ into a wife.

There is a prisoner in charge of allocating sleeping quarters to new inmates.

So, when you come in as first-timer and are still in the holding area, the prisoners in charge — they called them ‘Overall’— will be bribed with amounts ranging from Sh300 to Sh500.

The highest bidder will have the new prisoner assigned to his cell.

“Their preference is usually young, ‘yellow-yellow,’ plump men who are in prison for the first time.” 

When you get to the cell, which is usually full, your ‘husband’ will let you share his mattress, food and cigarettes. But come night, you will have to pay back.

SLEEPING HALLS 

Ismael said the sleeping halls are squalid, packed with dozens of people and the smell of urine lingers in the humid, stifling air.

They slept on tattered mattresses as mosquitoes bite every piece of your uncovered flesh.

“The mattresses were torn, and 3 by 4 size shared by three people. If your neighbour turns you fall and sleep on the bare floor,” he said.

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LONELINESS

Due to its location, parents are relatives do not visit the inmates regularly.

“You just want freedom. No one came to visit me. It was lonely,” Ismael recounts.

Behind heavily fortified prison’s gates, about 57,000 men are confined in a world that for most are grey and violent.

It’s a  grim life. No family or friends, no privacy, no free will, filthy dorms crowded with dozens of men sleeping without mattresses, no proper toilets, living under the suspicious gaze of menacing guards.

But not for everyone.

Inmates with some money and influence in certain prisons use to acquire more.

Some with smarts and connections are able to live like royalty (relatively), with private cells, mattresses, flush toilets, satellite TV and other amenities. The food is good and liquor is available.

“In prison there are classes. If you have money, you enjoy luxury. You sleep on a mattress and eat good food,” he said.

The Star/ Lyndsay Nyawira

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