Prisoners are people too, every time I see this van parked outside our church compound, this question always comes through my mind “How do prisoners with disability cope?” I got the answer on 17th of November when my husband came home from a formation meeting facilitated by Mary Knoll Fathers. The topic of the day was about prisoners and how much is needed in order for all prisoners to be fully rehabilitated so that when released they can re-integrate well in the society.
According to my mobile dictionary Freedom means the state of being allowed to do what you want to do. But if you break the law and you are apprehended and charged in a court of law, the prosecution has to give evidence beyond reasonable doubt that you are indeed guilty of the crime you are charged with. After trial if you are found guilty of the crime the judge will decree that you be incarcerated for a certain period of time and there goes the freedom you enjoyed while you were free to do whatever. In Kenya the rule of Law prevails where an accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Freedom comes with a social responsibility.
I remember watching the News one day, it was an expose’ of drug peddling and to the horror of many in the down streets of Nairobi a group of persons living with disability were openly peddling drugs to their clients who seemed to know who they were and where to find them. They were disguising themselves as hawkers. I really felt angry because living with a disability does not give you the ticket to break the law and when caught you start yapping that your human rights are being violated. This brings me to this story that I just read about this young man caught smuggling drugs. story is from the Guardian.
In 2012, he was arrested for trying to smuggle £300,000 worth of cocaine in the cushion of his wheelchair from Peru through Heathrow. He says he did it only because he was in despair: his condition had started to deteriorate fast, an arranged marriage had been cancelled because his girlfriend's parents didn't want her to marry a man with such poor prospects, and his half-sister had been diagnosed with cancer. Roque Hall, who had no previous criminal record, was in pieces when he was asked to import the cocaine. The judge later accepted that he had been "groomed and manipulated".
Once he admitted guilt, it was inevitable that he would be given a custodial sentence. The only thing that could have kept him out would have been if the prison in question, Wormwood Scrubs, had said it was incapable of dealing with his complex needs. Roque Hall's mother, Anne, believes that was what the judge was expecting, and hoping, to hear; then her son would serve his sentence at home under curfew or in care.
In court it was made clear that the specialists responsible for his care believed no prison was equipped to look after him. His consultant neurologist told the court about the exercises carers need to do with him through the day and night to palliate muscle pain and constant back pain. He also has to stand in an upright wheelchair six or seven times a day, to maintain what muscle capacity he has. At home, he had at least one carer, often two, 24 hours a day. Anne says the judge looked shocked after Wormwood Scrubs insisted it was perfectly capable of looking after her son. "I jumped up and put myself in front of Daniel when the prison officers came for him, and I said, 'You're not taking him anywhere. I want the governor of Wormwood Scrubs in this court to explain exactly how they are going to look after him because it's a lie and everybody knows it's a lie.' They were all looking at me. In the end I knew I couldn't stop him being taken."
When Roque Hall was being processed at the prison, he fell from an examination couch on to his head. He told medical staff he needed to go to hospital after a fall because he was at risk of haemorrhaging, and they suggested he was faking. Instead, he was sent to a care home, where he was surrounded by patients suffering from dementia. Apart from visits to the lavatory, Roque Hall was chained to a prison guard throughout his six days in the care home.
"It was ridiculous," he says slowly, deliberately. Speech is a struggle. "I'm hardly likely to jump out of the window or make a run for it. At one time I went for a shower, so they removed the handcuffs. When I came back, they put the handcuffs on really tight. I said to the lady that they were too tight and they were pinching my skin; I asked her to loosen them and she said, no, that's how it's supposed to be."
Roque Hall went into a diabetic coma when in the care home and had to be taken to hospital. A few days later, he was judged well enough to return to Wormwood Scrubs, where it appeared that the jail was not prepared for him. Although a physio was brought in to show staff how to use his stand-up wheelchair, they refused to because they said they had not received adequate training.
He lost two stone in seven weeks and suffered dramatic muscle deterioration. While in hospital he had been diagnosed with thyrotoxicosis (caused by an overactive thyroid gland), which can cause severe weight loss. Medical staff at Wormwood Scrubs were told it was vital for his weight to be monitored regularly. "You know how often he was weighed in seven weeks?" Anne asks. "Never. And they actually had a written care plan that said he should be weighed at least once a week."
She looks at her son. "After I saw you there, I just went out and sobbed. I was beside myself." He was rushed into hospital, in chains, on 23 August. "When a nurse phoned me about 3am and said he was in intensive care, I simply said, 'Is he dying?' I think she was shocked that I'd said that. She said, well, he's very, very ill. By the time I got down there Daniel was no longer able to speak. He had a whole team of doctors and nurses around him. All he could do was make sounds like 'bleueh bleueh bleueh'. His eyes were terrified. He was emaciated, he had sores on his face, his hair was long. He'd been utterly neglected. What was he doing with sores on his face?"
It was only when his heart started to give up and he was moved to intensive care that his handcuffs were removed.
Anne, an occupational therapist, finds it traumatic to talk about even now. In the end, Roque Hall did pull through, though he spent the next six months in hospital recovering. His heart consultant said he was in metabolic breakdown, due to the thyrotoxicosis not being monitored.
When he came out of intensive care, he found himself in a ward surrounded by three prison guards. He and the guards were then moved to a room. His mother says the lack of privacy was obscene. "I was very involved in his care. I gave him his speech therapy exercises, I fed him, so the prison officers saw a lot of me. Some of them said, 'We can't give him the care he needs, he needs to be at home with his people.' But some would make notes when we talked or when the doctors came in." When Roque Hall and his mother spoke to each other in Spanish, they claim the guards forbade it.
Eventually it was accepted that Roque Hall could not be rehabilitated with the officers in the room; they were moved outside, with the door left open so they could see everything going on. Before long he was talking and making jokes, Anne says: "And I thought, this is the old Daniel."
In February, the appeal court showed "exceptional mercy" and ruled that Roque Hall should be released from prison early after his lawyers argued that the Prison Service could not meet his medical needs. "His admission to intensive care and six months in hospital would have been completely avoidable," Anne says, "if they had looked after him as healthcare staff should, and as I would have done at home, and if they had taken action much earlier, not just when he was on the verge of dying."
Roque Hall's MP, Glenda Jackson, is horrified that he was handcuffed through much of his ordeal. "It's clearly absurd that a man who could never present a physical danger to anyone should be restrained in this way," she says.
Kenya being a country that prison reforms are taking place a lot still needs to be done though.We must not forget though that there are some people who end up in jail yet they were framed or it was a case of mistaken identity and they could not give a strong defense. I was eager to hear more of what they were taught and more specifically about prisoners with disability. What he told me was heart breaking, most prisoners who need assistive devices do not have them and there mobility is greatly affected, the good news though is that Fr. Grol’s Welfare Trust together with CMM brothers of mercy tries to donate wheelchairs, canes, crutches and aids needed by the prisoners.
Man is to error, I know some may say the prisoners with disability deserve to be in the situation they are in; for it is there fault they are in that situation but I say NO because the Bible which I so much believe in tell s me that he who has no sin let him cast the first stone. Imagine how hard it is for an able bodied person to spend life locked up in prison; how much more challenges will someone who is abled differently face in such a place? Take for instance someone with a muscle wasting condition who needs assistance to stand up from a sitting position, who needs someone or something to hold on to while walking e.t.c.
I challenge you today and all who read my blog to go visit prisoners, some last saw there family members during sentencing and once they got into prison that was it….cheer up someone you never know, you may save a soul.