In the cell block reserved for nursing mothers and pregnant inmates at the Kirikiri Female Prison, Lagos, toddlers clung to their mothers’ chests. They observed newsmen, when they visited last week Saturday, with a bemused expression on their young faces.
By Kunle Falay
They are in prison because their mothers are inmates. Apparently, they weren’t aware of a better life out there. They probably thought it was normal to be confined only to the four walls of the prison. No friends, no birthday parties, no relationship at all with other children outside the prison walls. They are victims of circumstances and will remain so until they are 18 months old.
These children – nine of them – were born within the walls of the prison. They live a regimented life; one brought about by the fact that in prison, rules are meant to be obeyed. When to sleep, when to eat, when to wake up, when to switch off the light and when to put it on are all regulated by prison authorities and this is the life these children have been born into.
The children are all below 18 months, so they could not interact verbally with our correspondent during the visit, which was aimed at shedding light on their lives.
“When the children are a year and half old (18 months), the mothers have to let them go. That is the regulation. Families of the inmates take the children away and take care of them till the mother gets out,” spokesperson of the Nigerian Prisons Service in Lagos, Mr. Biyi Jeje, had explained to Saturday PUNCH.
When the gate to the main yard of the prison swung open on the day our correspondent visited, dozens of inmates were seen doing their laundry on the grassy open ground.
Chattering while some were laughing, the inmates (the prison officials forbade them being called prisoners) were cheerful. An official of the prison told Saturday PUNCH why.
“They have the opportunity of doing their laundry once in a week. It is like a social time for them. They are able to wash their clothes and beddings and interact more,” the officials said.
A prayer and counseling session was ongoing in another part of the prison. A dozen inmates in white prison-style gown clapped and sang in a small hall, thanking God for life and good health.
Our correspondent was ushered into the cells of the nursing mothers.
A couple of them shared a small cell with bunk beds and the others shared a bigger one.
Twenty five-year-old Shade (not real name) had her five-month-old baby boy in her arms when our correspondent entered the cell she shared with five other nursing mothers. Prison officials were also in tow.
It was not eating time, so newsmen could not observe how the children were fed.
“You can ask them any question so far as it has nothing to do with why they are here and you protect their identities. We don’t want trouble from their lawyers,” an official said.