HARARE – Morgen Komichi, the MDC chief elections agent recently released from Chikurubi Maximum Security Remand Prison, who was arrested for whistleblowing on alleged electoral fraud, has recounted his “dehumanising” prison experience.
While magistrates refer to jail time rehabilitation for convicted criminals giving them a chance to become useful members of the society, Komichi described his three months stay at Chikurubi remand prison as hell.
“It feels good to taste freedom again but to tell you the truth it wasn’t easy being in prison,” Komichi told the Daily News in an exclusive interview.
“I just kept my hopes high and remained strong, basically that’s how I survived.”
During his long stay in prison Komichi said he was subjected to indecent and dehumanising practices in a place where even the right to speak is curtailed, with prison officials superintending over everything.
“You cease to be treated like a human being once you get to jail,” Komichi recalls.
“Every week they conduct a search to find out if prisoners are smuggling prohibited material into the cells.
“They would strip us naked in rows of 10 of about 400 people and make you jump with your arms open. Imagine a grown man like me being made to jump naked in front of hundreds other males.
“Though we would be people of the same sex I felt it was indecent and very embarrassing because they could adopt modern ways of searching or detecting if they respected prisoners’ rights as human beings.
“One of the guys I was in remand with, Johannes Petros, had to be thoroughly beaten after he complained about the way they conducted the search. I just feel that for some reason, they were afraid of me because they never touched me.”
Prisoners survive on a small portion of sadza and boiled cabbage or spinach, seasoned with a small amount of coarse salt every day.
“You are only at an advantage if you are still on remand because you can get food from home very often unlike sentenced prisoners who are only allowed visitors fortnightly,” he said.
“We can’t even begin to talk of balanced diet because their main meal is sadza and boiled vegetables every day."
Because he could get food from outside while in remand prison, Komichi says he actually gained weight.
“Won’t you be surprised if I tell you that when they took me into custody I weighed 96 kg but the first thing I did when I left was weigh myself again and I had actually gained four more kgs,” he said.
Hygiene conditions, he says, were appalling and there was contagion of diseases, with blankets infected with lice and the toilets’ flushing system broken down.
“The prisons are tuberculosis (TB) prone. Blankets are old and never washed hence they harbour dust, fleas and lice. The worst thing is that prisoners are not allowed to wash them,” he said.
“We had to clean the toilet on our own because the flush system is not functional.”
The 49-year-old told the Daily News that homosexuality was rampant in prison.
He said for those in the relationships, the man in the affair makes sure that his spouse is well-taken care of.
“Homosexuality is real in prison and men depend on fellow jailbirds for sexual relief. The one assuming the role of a ‘man’ in the relationship makes sure his ‘girlfriend’ is well-fed and protected,” he said.
“Their main challenge comes when they are caught bonking each other by the prison guards because they will be thoroughly beaten. The assaults usually cause physical damage and a lot of blood is lost.
“I just feel since there are laws which condemn such practices as homosexuality or other crimes committed while in prison, inmates deserve a right to be tried and punished and not be subjected to such brutality.”
Quizzed about his future plans, Komichi said, “It’s just a while before you see me executing my duties again.”