I did not contemplate spending the lover’s weekend with inmates until impatient Daniel Kyeyune and judicial policeman (OPJ) Kamali Thomas of Muhima Police Station jointly decided my fate.
The thick blue metallic cell door slammed behind me and I had the juggle of the keys and the snap of a locking padlock as the police officer who I had accompanied locked it behind me.
I had signed a cheque as a guarantee for a friend of mine who had a pending debt well knowing that there was no money on the account. I did not have to be very intellectual to know that it is a criminal offence in case the friend runs away without paying.
Luckily enough he did not disappear but unfortunately the money, not available on time made both of us spend in jail what would have been the best time to take on a date.
My friend and I shared a small room with over 20 inmates most of whom were murders, thieves, conmen, child and drug traffickers, street thugs and one mad man who shouted all night in the next cell. Like us, most of the inmates cried foul but it did not take me by surprise neither.
“All prisoners claim to be innocent whether they have committed the offence or not. No one ever admits until there is evidence against them,” said one police constable.
For a moment, I suspected foul play but I was keen not to let the police officers know my anxiety. I appealed to my sense of purpose and mission and braced for the worst.
A young inmate welcomed me in by begging for some money. I had none to give. Another asked me to introduce myself, which I did and there was silence suggesting disbelief.
In a few minutes, word spread through the neighboring cells that a journalist was among them and the vast majority of the prisoners received the news seemingly with a sigh of relief.
Intense competition ensued for my attention. Every prisoner now wanted me to interview him, to tell me his story so that I can retell it in the newspaper
My headache instantly disappeared as did the fear and for the next days I was locked in powerful discussions. A new companionship had been born, and in a few minutes, armed with a pen and paper I listened to their story.
45 year-old Hussein Barabanya, a Rwandan kick boxing champion and trainer has been married for four years and the mother to his only son is the reason he was behind the bars.
What started like an isolated family misunderstanding between the two ended up branding Barabanya a national enemy and collaborator of the Congo based Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR).
Barabanya had been at work when the wife Jeannatte Uwera dumped him the two and a half year old boy before he opted to keep his son in the care of his sister.
I was later to learn that the source of the long term conflict was that while Barabanya retires to rest every evening, Uwera is out drinking and having fun with other men.
A week later Uwera reported that Barabanya had stolen her baby and even accused him of collaborating with perpetrators of the 1994 Genocide against Tutsis. Accusations he described as trumped up and ethnically motivated.
“I could not have stolen my own baby and leaving it to die was not logical so I am taking care of him at my sister’s place because my wife has abandoned him. Now she is even adding heavier charges that could get me killed.”
Barabanya currently trains young children between the ages of eight and thirteen.
On 5th September 2007, he represented the country in the African Kickboxing Championship in Egypt and emerged second but despite the achievement he looks clearly pushed to the edge.
When my first visitor, my editor came to see me, I was anxious to leave. After the few phone calls he made failed to rescue me, I thought to myself “This is a perfect goldmine for a journalist,”
My newly discovered goldmine of ideas kept me wishing away visitors. Needless to say, I was released after a day or two, much to the delight to my new friends who now know that their story may come to see the light of day.
This was definitely a Valentine’s Day I will live to remember.