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Michael Afenfia: My 2015 Prison Break

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This week, I decided to share a personal story, one about my visit to Okaka prison, Yenagoa, in 2015. It was a visit that opened my eyes to what it means to be truly free. It made me appreciate afresh what it means to go and come as one pleases and how a simple visit to someone locked away, from a person on the outside, even from a complete stranger, could mean so much to an abandoned inmate and uplift their spirit.

I remember that first visit because only a few hours before I sat down with my laptop to write this, I visited Okaka prison again.

I’ve said this is a personal story, so personal I haven’t shared it with anyone except perhaps one or two people in my family. I know some of you would have looked at the title of this article and concluded that I’d be narrating a fascinating jailbreak or some exciting escapade about escaping captivity. If you did, you would be wrong. Instead of breaking out, this here is a tale about a breaking in of some sorts.

You see, in 2015, I was going through a rough patch and having lived in one city and worked in another for a number of years, I was dealing with the pressure of resettling fully back at home and a possible job change. It wasn’t exactly an easy time in a lot of ways and as Christmas approached that year, while worrying about what to do for my family in a period of looming recession, I had a burden to adopt a prisoner.

So, I went to the prison and spoke to the wardens about allowing me periodically bring groceries to someone that had been in there for some time and who didn’t have anyone visiting. Someone I didn’t know and who didn’t know me either. When they introduced their pick to me, it turned out his first name was Michael, and you may not have noticed, but my first name is also Michael. It was that coincidence that sealed the deal.

Michael told me he is a lifer. That is he would be spending the rest of his life in prison and no one from his family had visited him in years. They had abandoned him in prison, but that’s his own side of the story. I don’t know enough to judge them, and it’s not my place to judge him either.

Another story he told me was about the incident that landed him behind bars. He had gotten into a fight with someone over a phone that resulted in a machete blow. That blow severed the wrist of his victim. We have tried to have his case reviewed but the lawyer returned with bad news, which I’m afraid I can’t get into now. But suffice to say that Michael is still in Okaka, and short of the miracle of a pardon, would be there for a long time.

My visits to Michael may not be as frequent as I would like or can afford, but I notice his happiness whenever I drop by. He’d ask about my family even though he’s never met them and when I get up to live he says a prayer for me.

The garri, beans, rice and other things I take to him are not excess from my house; they are bought specially for him from Swali market. I know Michael and his fellow inmates and even the wardens were initially surprised at my request to visit this stranger, but this stranger has become a brother and a friend.

I didn’t have an answer for Michael or the wardens that first day they asked what made me seek out a convicted felon from a part of the country different from mine and render assistance to him. I didn’t have an answer for them then, and I don’t have an answer for them now. However, if I’m being honest, that dark patch I mentioned earlier, it miraculously eased off and doors opened up in unexpected places after that first visit and it has sort of stayed that way ever since.

My friend, Michael, is one of several inmates abandoned by friends and family members because of crimes they were found guilty of by the legal system. While some in that situation become even more hardened than they were before their incarceration, others become contrite and find genuine repentance. Knowing how totally rundown and depressive our Nigerian prisons can be, it’s hard to imagine how the former is not the case for most of the people locked up there.

Let’s also not forget that somewhere in the Bible, when listing good deeds, Jesus mentioned visiting those in prison. I notice NGOs and religious groups visit prisoners on some of my trips to see Michael and I think it’s a good thing. Let’s do more as individuals and government to make our prisons a place people go and come out reformed.

Photo Credit: Dreamtime

A proud son of the Ijaw nation and lover of Nigeria, Michael Afenfia associates with everything good and exciting about Nigeria. His ongoing work, the Mechanics of Yenagoa, is published on his blog every fortnight. So far, he has authored three critically acclaimed novels and a number of nonfiction writing, including a biography. He is @MichaelAfenfia on social media and can be reached via [email protected]

19 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    November 24, 2018 at 6:16 pm

    Inspiring.

    Now I am motivated to also adopt a prisoner.

    • Eminem

      December 30, 2018 at 2:46 am

      We need more prisons. There are a lot of c**k-s*****s to fill them up.

  2. Dr.N

    November 24, 2018 at 6:52 pm

    Having lived and worked in Yenagoa, I now wish I had visited the prison. I have been to other prisons and it was a humbling experience. One of the things I plan to do in a few years, is to assemble a team of excellent young lawyers to see to the release of every innocent person behind bars.
    For those justly jailed, rehabilitation is key. I think we will all find that if we step out of our comfort zones to share the pain of the voiceless, our own issues will diminish or even disappear.

    • Mrs chidukane

      November 24, 2018 at 10:28 pm

      The bottlenecks you will experience will be massive but its a worthwhile venture.

      This is a beautiful story. I’ve never thought about adopting a prisoner but will look into it.

  3. Shade

    November 24, 2018 at 7:01 pm

    God bless you Michael!

  4. Hotstuff

    November 24, 2018 at 7:47 pm

    Nigeria’s prison system is a huge stinking mess. I had to modify my PGD thesis topic because I hit numerous bottlenecks getting approval from the ogas in charge. Apparently they didn’t want anyone coming to do research that’ll open their y**nsh. That’s when I started wondering if there’s hope for our country
    PS- Read a book of yours,When the Moon caught Fire ages ago. Strangely can’t remember the details but I remember I really enjoyed it.

  5. Gemonyi

    November 25, 2018 at 12:04 am

    Well done Micheal. I’ll be visiting one soon

  6. Adejoju

    November 25, 2018 at 5:26 am

    Not every time government, government. I like that you “adopted” on a prisoner and made him your responsibility. I am inspired to do same. I just hope the prison authorities in Lagos would be as cooperative as those in Yenagoa.

    BTW: Michael, I am currently reading your online series, the Mechanics of Yenagoa – and following #MechanicsOfYenagoa. And I must say, it is beautiful! How you manage to string these believable stories together is amazing!

  7. Ameenah

    November 25, 2018 at 10:16 am

    Not many of us can lift a finger for others as you did, Sir. While some of us may have good intentions to do so, courage or care becomes absent. You’re an inspiration to many, Sir. I hope the care and courage to help others who desperately needs it never fail me. Thank you on behalf of Michael, your adopted friend and thank you for inspiring me.

  8. Mojisola

    November 25, 2018 at 10:23 am

    This is touching. I am challenged to ‘adopt’. What you make happen for others, God will make happen for you…

  9. Obioma

    November 25, 2018 at 10:51 am

    That’s Michael for you! Real stuff. Kudos

  10. Debby Dee

    November 25, 2018 at 11:09 am

    Touching and inspiring story. I’ve only visited a prison once in my life, the inmates, with the look on their faces (as though it was christmas) were excited to see people from the outside world, we shared to them Food and money, From that day, i knew what it means to be truly free, free to go wherever I want whenever I want. The Nigerian prison is a place I won’t like to see even my enemy.

  11. Mojjysola

    November 25, 2018 at 12:31 pm

    What you make happen for others, God will make it happen for you…

  12. Chinedu Odionyenma

    November 25, 2018 at 3:13 pm

    You have done well sir, your visit to Michael has made him to rethink and believe that where he is now is not where he should be, it will also make he to change and pray to God to help him come out of the prison.

  13. Uzezi Macaulay

    November 25, 2018 at 10:48 pm

    Thank God for small mercies and unappreciated liberties.

  14. Jack Agaba

    November 26, 2018 at 9:56 am

    Micheal this is heroic… I always thought about visiting a Ugandan prison but the rules they put and given my age, it’s thought I can’t be helpful. I’ve always been pitiful of the way these prisoners are made to cultivate and the lashes Incase of a slow down. Thanks for lighting a torch.

  15. Joswaggz

    November 26, 2018 at 8:38 pm

    GOD will continue to increase your greatness sir,this is so so touching

  16. Hannah

    November 27, 2018 at 12:31 pm

    Beautiful and very inspiring. Your generosity will not go unrewarded.

  17. Zee

    November 30, 2018 at 7:19 pm

    Well done

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