Extract from Chapter I


Page  1  2  3  4

In one huge room in Butare Central Prison, known as the chapel, there are no metal structures and no bunk-beds.  There are just rows of narrow wooden benches on the ground.  Each bench is about 30 centimetres wide.  One layer of prisoners sleeps on top of these benches and another underneath, in a grid-like formation.  The prisoners gave us a demonstration:  one person lies on the bench, on a folded sack which serves as a mattress.  Three others lie underneath, on the ground between the two feet of the bench, at right angles to the one on top.  The only way for those on top to get up at night is to step on the last few inches of each bench which have deliberately been left empty for this purpose.  Other people sleep across all the pathways on the ground.  About 400 people live in the chapel.

In Butare prison, there is another area known as Kuwait, so named by the prisoners because it is a gulf, a narrow impasse.  It is dark, damp and airless, and there is an overpowering smell from the adjacent toilets and showers.  Just outside Kuwait, people sleep in an area which is also used to wash, but which is distinct from the official showers.  It is a narrow corridor, but less dark than Kuwait because it is in the open air.  When we walk through, some of the prisoners who live there are sitting crouched up against the walls, with dirty, soapy water swilling around their feet and dripping down the walls, while others are having their shower opposite them.  They have to clean the area each night before going to sleep there.

The even less fortunate sleep outside, in the yard, in the open air, exposed to the hot sun and frequent downpours of heavy rain.  Some have plastic sheeting to protect them, but it is old and worn, stitched and patched up again and again until it can be patched up no longer; the rain drips in through the holes.  The sheeting is rolled back during the day, unless it is raining, and brought back at night, but it doesn’t cover the whole yard, so some prisoners remain exposed.  Some more enterprising prisoners have erected precarious structures against the walls of the yard, made of a combination of wooden planks and pieces of sheeting; these are called ibyari, birds’ nests.  But most just sleep where they can on the ground outside, sitting against the walls, or in the middle of the yard, next to drainage channels and puddles of dirty rain.

Next page 

Page 2/4

Next page 

Previous page

Printer friendly version

Cyangugu Central Prison, Rwanda 2004 © Carina Tertsakian
Table of contents
Read an extract
Further reading
The author
Buy the book