Last night I was able to catch up with a good Acholi friend of ours who had just been released from prison. Ironically, he’s one of the most trustworthy friends we have here. His phone constantly interrupted our conversation; well-wishers were calling him to welcome him back.
Although our close friend had been in prison for three and a half months (112 days – that rolled off his tongue); his conversation topics dwelled on the positive. How grateful and happy he was that his work colleagues had accepted him back into his workplace so willingly. How appreciative he was of the many friends, students and colleagues who had visited him, bringing a saucepan, soap, cooking oil and food. And how he was pleased of positive improvements made in his workplace since he left.
Our mate is a professional teacher, married with four young children. What was his crime? Loitering, or known by locals as being out at night. In early October he loaned his bicycle to a friend. The bicycle wasn’t returned and at 10pm one evening a friend called for him to come quick because he found his bicycle which someone had stolen. He quickly went on his way to retrieve it. One does not want to be stopped by police walking late at night in Gulu in the lead up to Christmas. When he appeared in court the police statement had changed to him being accused of attempting to overthrow the government. In his words to me: the police wanted some quick Christmas cash. He had 40,000 shillings in his wallet (about £9/$15) when he handed over his wallet and an empty wallet when it was returned to him on release.
Life in a prison in Uganda is quite different to what you could imagine; and strikingly contrasting from our more familiar countries. He stayed in the main prison for one month; then was transferred to the ‘prison farm’ for a little over two months. Conditions were worse in the main prison where about 2,500 inmates crowded in both old and new blocks. You sleep on the bare cement floor, sardines lined up with no room to roll over. ‘What if you need to roll over?’ I ask. ‘Well then you say to your ‘co’ it’s time to move and you both roll together’. ‘Were you beaten?’ ‘Eh! I was beaten seriously!’ He was thankful for a ‘promotion’ as a leadership position amongst inmates to the prison farm where he worked long days out on the land.
Several times during our conversation he told me how healthy he was; it was almost as though he was proud to leave prison healthy. He also quoted Scripture to me, how our life is planned, even things we could not imagine could happen. I am humbled during our discourse. I can see Christ in his life. I can see his incredible ability to take the positives out of negative situations and endure. He has encouraged and challenged me.