15 May 2016
Visit to the Central Prison in Douala
Inmates of the Central Prison popularly known as New Bell prison in Douala refer to their world as Babylon and the outside world as Cameroon. When you walk into the fortress called New Bell prison, you really know that you are in a different world. This is a crowded world of mostly of young men. This is a prison constructed during the colonial period to house 800 detainees. Today, according to the Newsletter ‘The Transformer’ there are about 3200 inmates of which 60 are females and 30 are minors. A majority of these inmates are awaiting trial.
We came visiting as a group from the Presbyterian Church, Bonamoussadi , Douala. Elaborate preparations were made to accommodate the hundreds of visitors from ‘Cameroon’ and many more resident Babylonians in the open space of this facility. The most difficult thing was to separate the visitors from the desperate Babylonians during the three hours church service. They occasionally broke security limits to beg for a few coins or sell handicraft products made in the prison. Security was largely maintained by selected prisoners wearing red shirts. In this prison, inmates have always been used to complement the work of warders. We listened to songs from the different prison choirs and other visiting choirs from P.C. Bonamoussadi. The principal aim of the visit was to launch the fund raising ceremony to build a chapel in the prison compound.
Rev Miki Hans led a college of pastors for the occasion and delivered a sermon. Addressing the prisoners he said; “We have come here today to remind you that you are part of human society”. “I believe in a writer who said that hope is a scarce commodity in prison”. He said that he was aware of the sense of “oppression, hopelessness and helplessness” that is pervasive in prison. Rev Miki said that they were three kinds of prisoners: Those guilty in action and intention, those guilty in action and not intention and those guilty in action and intention. He called on all of them to put their hope in Christ. The Presbyterian congregation in New Bell prison has over a hundred members, seven elders and a vibrant CMF movement. The chairperson of PCC New Bell prison is Elder Z.M. Fonjidam. When we came visiting, he and his fellow Christians of the PCC were very cheerful and in high spirits.
From information gathered, the living conditions of inmates of New Bell prison though deplorable are an improvement on what they were a couple of years ago. During my visit here over a decade ago, the place was a sub human jungle where squalor, disease and death was common.
After three hours, I was itchy to leave this place. I can imagine those, especially the innocent ones that have spent years here. This prison at New Bell is not a place you will wish as a home even for your enemy. Something urgently has to be done to decongest and humanize Africa prisons.
Other PCC related articles
1 CWF at 50
2 Presbyterian Handicraft work
3 World Diabetes Day at P.C Bonamoussadi
4 The Story of the Presbyterian Church Wumugi, Batibo
Njei Moses Timah