After hearing ‘Jailer’ by Asa in 2007, I immediately included it in my playlist. Every morning I would wake up to listen to the song on automatic rewind. I didn’t know exactly why I was doing this. Maybe it was because Jonnie Muhika Onyango started referring to me as a ‘jail bird‘.
Looking back, I know God was preparing me for what I am facing right now. I didn’t know this at the time. But listening to this song, over and over, every morning when I woke up, prepared me for my work. Much as it has not been a rosy experience, I choose to call my experience as the joyful reality of being a prison jail bird.
It was Earnest Nesta who reminded me how i used to play and sing ‘Jailer’ at the top of my voice. Here are the lyrics to the song…
“I’m in chains you’re in chains too
I wear uniforms and you wear uniforms too
I’m a prisoner, you’re a prisoner too Mr Jailer
I have fears you have fears too
I will die, you sef go die too
Life is beautiful, don’t you think so too Mr Jailer
I’m talking to you jailer
Stop calling me a prisoner
Let he who is without sin –
Be the first to cast the stone Mr Jailer,
Mr Jailer Man…”
Listening to the song prepared me for each session I have at the prison, where even if it is briefly, I end up becoming a fellow prisoner. This means being bound by the same routines, things and time frames that bind prisoners. Within that time frame, I dispense with my freedom to come and go as I wish. I have to ask for permission to go to the toilet, and sometimes with an escort. Time also seems to stop and because I seldom have a watch, I have to be told it is time wrap things up.
That is why I usually go to prison with an open mind that I am ready to spend the whole day there. That starts with – when I am able to afford to – eating a heavy breakfast. Such a meal may include having a Korean subway (French bread rolls topped with raw lettuce, raw tomatoes, raw cucumber, avocado and fried eggs) and black coffee without sugar.
When I don’t have this, I simply eat ugali with boiled vegetables and avocado. Because yesterday’s visit was to last an hour or so, I didn’t have a heavy breakfast. However, I was prepared to go the whole distance.
Our mission was to visit someone in the adult prison. And just like I had secretly anticipated, we were not able to see him at 9 am, and had to wait till 3 PM. That meant waiting for 6 hours!. This being so, we had to find something to do. There is always plenty to do in prison and once we get that space, the joyful reality of being a prison jail bird kicks in and time stops.
As we engage with the juvenile prisoners, we don’t notice how weary, hungry and thirsty we are until we exit the prison and arrive back home. What stops time is God’s divine inspiration, lessons learned from our personal experiences as well as the spiritual, mental and physical strength gained during half marathons, biking and duathlon events.
Virtues acquired during our time in prison
Waiting for 6 hours to have a session or visit a prisoner isn’t a piece of cake. This I can guarantee you. However, there are always lessons to be learned and virtues to be acquired, such as, and not limited to:-
These are the things you can gain when you choose not to complain, grumble or want to bulldoze your way in prison. Trust me, you won’t have things your own way. That is not how things work in prison. By becoming a fellow ‘jailer’ you are able to start mastering the joyful reality of becoming a prison jail bird and coming to grasps with ministering in prison. Here is what Paul asserts in one of his letters to the Corinthian Church.
To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.
1 Corinthians 9:20-22, New International Version