Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

A Short Story

Six Months For The Gun (II)

by Ebo Quansah

Matthew, Kobina Yedu's cell-mate welcomed him with a glow of warmth and affability that baffled the new inmate.

After helping to make his bed, Matthew began the formalities that welcome inmates to Wormwood Scrubs Prisons.

"Matthew is my name. I am British and I am here for armed robbery".

"Dad named me Kobina Yedu, I come from Ghana… “

"Ghana, The former Gold Coast? My grandparents were there. Grandpa was manager of Kingsway in Accra and my father was born there. I am told it's a beautiful place."

"So it was; it is not so anymore. A lot of factors have conspired to rob the Country of all that is beautiful. It is a long story. Maybe I'll be in a position to explain later. I am here for violating British immigration laws"..

"Wh-a-a-t? Do you mean you have overstayed your visa... And therefore what? When our forefathers came to Africa, did they even inform your people?

Anyway, be serious… immigration offences are not handled here. This is a place for real crimes”

"Well", intoned the new inmate, "a group of people who took over our land uninvited, brought all our ornaments to decorate their throne and directed our lives towards the Queen, now don't want us to have anything to do with Her Majesty'.

"Why did you overstay?" That was Matthew. Kobina Yedu stared at the ceiling. Momentarily, he seemed lost in thoughts as he reflected on the writing on the wall.

"Man.. destiny is in your own hands... You alone can make or mar your life.. strive and you will succeed. Jesus directs."

Kobina Yedu took a close look at his cellmate. "My brother", he began "it is impossible to go back. If I step in Accra, I would be dead. It's a long story but the gist of it is that soldiers... “

Just then there was the unlocking of the cell door. The officer's deep voice gave the command: "Tea".

Matthew was up with the order. He mumbled to his mate to hurry because time outside cell was limited. By the time Kobina Yedu was ready, Matthew was back with his meals and was waving to a group of inmates descending from the upper landing Wormwood Scrubs, Britain’s Maximum Security Prison, is a far cry for some of the world's lead criminals. Inscriptions on the doors indicate the category of offence.

SW stands for suspects being held "Special Warrants", Category " are for those being held for top crimes

There were two men - Jo Michael and Richard Burnes arrested in connection with Britain’s biggest gold raid in which 26 million pounds worth of gold and ot ornaments were stolen from Heathrow Airport. There was the self confessed murderer, Nielson the millionaire, who lured young men to his luxury mansion from pubs, gave them drinks and other intoxicants and strangled them to death, crushed the bodies and flushed them through his toilets.

For some time, there had been reports of people mostly young men missing from pubs in London. Scotland Yard and the Metropolitan Police investigations drew blank and Londoners were made to live with Chilean type of disappearances, though no political motives could be attached. The events leading to Nielson's arrest were as bizarre as the disappearances.

Sewerage workers clearing choked up systems were greeted by a stench most foul. As they tried to unravel the mystery, one of them discovered what looked like human parts. Further digging revealed crushed bodies leading to Nielson's executive mansion. He was arrested and confessed to killings numbering up to 16. The only motive for the crime, he told the Old Bailey, was that it gave him pleasure.

There was Sampson Court, another millionaire who killed his wife, severed the head from the body and put it on his dressing mirror, from where he kissed it every now and then with a passionate: "I love you" message.

There was also this man-child. At four feet two, he looked like any ten- year-old boy. On the other hand his crimpled face, and toothless mouth portrayed a man who had seen the best part of his life. Charles King was his name and if you asked him what brought him to prison, he would take great pains to lecture you on how a man owed him £30 and had refused to pay for three months.

One day he decided to teach the debtor a lesson. He poured petrol on his wall and set it ablaze. The debtor was out but the charred bodies of his wife and two children together with a ravaged home was the worst penalty he could pay for his obstinacy.

Visiting time has a special appeal to different people. Apart from being the only contact with the outside world, it provides the main opportunity for replenishing one's stock.

As usual, names blaring on the loudspeakers identify the lucky ones. Two warders, one in front, opening the many gates, while the one at the rear do the re-locking, escort the inmates to the visitors hall. Searching is thorough to ensure that not even a piece of paper is left in inmates pockets as they make their way in and out of the hall.

Conversation looks more of a tough bargaining than anything based on mutual trust. Tables have identifica- tion numbers to indicate the type of inmate. Visitors occupy one end with those benefiting from the visit taking the other. Uniformed men, placed at vantage points in the room to make sure that nothing goes amiss, completes a picture of Orwellian Thought Police interrogation.

Kobina Yedu received his first visitors on a Wednesday. As he stood going through the formalities of search and allocation of seat, he had the opportunity to observe those going through the rituals of kisses with their loved ones. He was struck by the curious nature of most inmates just leaving the visitor's hall.

Most kept tight lips gesticulating in answer to questions. It was then that Kobina Yedu had the feeling that the long kisses could not only have been their way of expressing their love.

That night, nobody in the Eastern block whose turn it was to receive visitors could sleep. Shouting and wailing got louder and louder. The next morning, most inmates at the exercise yard were smoking something that gave a strong scent.

It was then that Yaw Asante, a senior inmate gave the rationale behind the long kisses. "Kisses, as you saw yesterday, were not only for expressing love. The motive is to transfer Cannabis, heroin, and other drugs from female visitors' mouths into inmate's mouths. Prison is supposed to reform but over here, people come to pick new tricks to beat the law" Asante explained.

As sports-conscious inmates juggled and ran with the ball, others gathered in patches at places with room enough to hold them. Such gatherings are mostly at nationalist level. Apart from West Indians, most blacks in prison are either Nigerians or Ghanaians. The gatherings are the prison "courts" specially called in order to give those on remand an idea of what they should expect in a real court situation.

The Ghanaian group had a chief, a linguist, a court crier and elders who sat every session. It was obligatory for every Ghanaian being sent on remand to Wormwood Scrubs, to pay a courtesy call on "Nana", and brief him on his charges.

That Thursday's court had a special appeal to all Ghanaians on remand. The court crier had gone round the previous night with the information that a soldier, one of the aides of Chairman Rawlings in His Holy War, had been brought on remand and that the prison court would sit to give judgement on his case before his real court was due at Willesden Crown Court, the next day.

Corporal Asare, one of the security men in charge of guarding Ghana Airways had been arrested at Heathrow with two kilos of marijuana tied to his body. He pleaded not guilty at the Willesden Magistrates Court and was committed to stand trial at the Crown Court.

As usual, it was Okyeame Akompong who poured libation to invoke the god's blessing to the proceedings: "gods of Asante... gods of Larteh... Oguaa 'bosompo’... you know why we have gathered this afternoon... some of us are in prison because we have wronged you, some are here because we have wronged our fellow men... but most of us are here because the gun drove us from our land. We have gathered here once again in your name. One of those who drove us from our land has joined us here. You have proved that you are indeed powerful but for your might to be really trumpeted, let Rawlings and his cronies be brought to their knees".

The libation went down well with most people. Nana himself nodded his approval but the facial expression exhibited by Cpl Asare suggested he was far from enthused by the proceedings.

After the libation, Nana asked Okyeame to invite "soldier" to brief the court on his case. After his narration, Nana took a close look at him... "You made a mistake, once the stuff is on you, no matter what you say, you are guilty. You should have pleaded guilty. You would have been sentenced to only six months . . .

As things stand now, you stand to be gaoled for two years. If you go to court tomorrow, change your plea to guilty. The judge will hand over a one-year sentence. Six months for the offence and another six for wasting the court's time..

"And maybe another six for misuse of the gun... When the state clothes and provides you with the gun, you don't use it to terrorise them. When you kill people in the name of a concept nobody understands When because of the misuse of the gun, you are entrusted with a responsibility you don't deserve . . . And when you misuse that position to try to enrich yourself to the detriment of people who sweat to provide you those facilities the gods have a way of demanding retribution". That was Yaw Asante.

A moment of silence enveloped the proceedings and for a while the only noise that reminded anybody of human habitation was the distant shouting of inmates who had obviously gone over their heads from the previous day's marijuana "mouth" import.

Cpl Asare did not return to Wormwood Scrubs from court the next day. News got round that he had received an 18 month jail sentence and been sent to Brixton Prison.

At the exercise yard the next morning, Yaw Asante was smiling and patting everybody's shoulders. "I told you so. The revolutionary got 18 months. Six months for the offence... six for wasting the court's time and another six for the gun

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