A visit to Muranga Prison….

A few weeks ago James Githirwa, a carpenter and bus driver for Rosslyn, asked my friend Daniel and I (Jamie) to accompany him to Murang’a Prison, a maximum security Kenyan prison.   James, in addition to his work at Rosslyn, is a minister focusing on prison ministry.  Daniel has been with James before, but this was my first time.  We had to meet James downtown at 8:00am to catch the Murang’a matatu, so Dan and I began walking to catch a matatu heading downtown around 7:00am.  When we arrived downtown, we disembarked and began the 20 minute walk across town to another depot to catch the Murang’a shuttle.  Matatus are the major mode of transportation for most Kenyans (next to legs and feet).  Many Westerners view them as unsafe but they are a cheap, and fairly efficient, way to travel.  We arrived to find that the matatu was not quite ready, and when it was, we still had to wait for enough passengers to fill it to capacity (15 people) before we could begin the 70 km journey.  Now, these vehicles aren’t made for people of considerable height or width, so at 6’4” they provide a fairly uncomfortable ride.  In addition, 14 of your closest friends (of which some, you could make the argument, lack the aroma of someone that has bathed in recent memory) sit as closely to you as possible without sitting on you…and sometimes they just sit on you.  On this particular morning it was rainy outside so all windows in the matatu remained closed during the trip, providing a humid and sticky atmosphere to complete our traveling accommodations.  We arrived in Murang’a around 10:30 and had to walk a km or so to the prison.  Upon arrival we had to go through security briefings, talk to several “important” people, and do a lot of sitting around.  Finally, at 11:30 or so, we were allowed to go inside to speak to the inmates.  I was shocked at the conditions and the sheer number of people that sat before me.  The yard resembled what I have always seen depicted in prison movies set in the early 1900’s…and there were at least 200 prisoners.  The entire prison block consumed less space than some peoples homes (yards included), and to think that some of these guys would never leave.  We were only given about 1/2 hour to speak, but we each took our turn.  The inmates were quiet, respectful, and some were even responsive.  One man decided to follow Christ and others stood for prayer.  It was only one man, but his decision made the long process of getting there well worth it.  We were then invited to the women’s block.  This was the most heartbreaking moment of the day.  There were only 15-20 women inmates, but among them were 5 kids….kids that will grow up, or at least spend considerable portions of their childhoods, in prison.  The positive side of this is that they are with their mothers, but what kind of childhood can one have in prison?  We shared Christ with the women and many were responsive and asked for prayer.  James visits this prison, and many others, often and disciples these inmates.  He even has a member of his team that is a former inmate that was saved through his ministry.  After leaving the women’s block we were escorted to the Warden’s Office where we waited for 30 more minutes before meeting with him.  Apparently James’ paperwork that allows him to take visitors into the prisons was not up to date, and even though they allowed us in with no concerns and we were already about to leave,  the warden had to take a moment (or several) to flex his muscles and remind us that he is a powerful man.  So we had to listen to veiled threats for 20-25 minutes before we told us how much appreciated the work we were doing and allowed us to leave.  To make a long story short (well, at least shorter) it then took us another 4 1/2 hours to actually get out of the prison, have a soda, walk to the matatu stop across town, catch a matatu, wait for it to fill to capacity, make the trip back to downtown Nairobi, walk across town, grab a bite to eat, catch a matatu home, and make the walk back to Rosslyn, arriving home at 6:00 pm.  In all we spent 11 hours of travel, waiting, and sitting in order to have the opportunity to share Christ with the prisoners for roughly 1 hour, but the sacrifice was worth the reward.  I definitely hope to accompany James again in the future, with Jessica, but next time we may just have to drive.

I was not able to take my camera in, but this is a picture of the yard of another Kenyan prison. (taken from http://www.nation.co.ke)

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