18 Nov 2023
Visit to New Bell Prison
I accompanied the congregation of Presbyterian Church Bonamoussadi Douala on the 17th of November, to pay a visit to the inmates of the New Bell prison as part of the activities to mark the end of the International Prisons Week. The late Fela Anikulakpo Kuti used to call the prison ‘inside world’ but the inmates of this prison call it ‘Babylon’ while the area outside the prison walls ‘Cameroon’.
Our delegation accompanied by 10 pastors of the PCC East Moungo South Presbytery carried some donations from members of our congregation to the inmates. As the church was also informed that there were 18 inmates who had served their prison terms but have not been released because they could not pay various fines/penalties, an appeal was made and the funds totaling 3350000 + 180000 cfa transport money for the inmates ($5876 USD) were raised to help release them.
The ceremony in the form of a normal church service took place under canopies erected in the court of the prison. In attendance were about 300-400 inmates, the prison administration and those of us from the ‘outside world’. The Temple Singers of the New Bell Prison Chapel animated the occasion with a string of songs from their well organized band. During the Sermon, Rev Jones Ebot Ayuk, told the inmates that our hearts go to all of them, adding “we embrace you and give you hope”.
The Chairman of the New Bell Prison Chapel Elder Forjindam Zach thanked PC Bonamoussadi for being a “permanent partner and backbone” of the prison Chapel. (Note that the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon has an imposing church building within the prison thanks particularly to P.C Bonamoussadi and the input of Pa Forjindam who was a prominent member of P.C Bonamouussadi before his arrest and incarceration since 2008).
In his own speech, the chairperson of P.C Bonamoussadi Elder Fongang Moses pledged continued support from P.C Bonamoussadi to the Prison Chapel and promised to see to it that Elder Forjindam’s request for the Christian Women Fellowship of PC Bonamoussadi to come and set up a branch in the prison is carried out.
We also received a word of appreciation from the prison administrator Mr Nguiamba Alexandre.
The occasion ended with the presentation of the inmates (17men one woman) that were being belatedly released thanks to P.C Bonamoussadi.
When I sat and looked at the Presbyterian Church building within the prison standing close to a Mosque, and the fact that during Holy Communion, there was a call to prayers from the Mosque, it became clear that this is a place of coexistence. I looked further on the veranda of the upper floor of one of the cells and saw 5 young men with bare bodies sitting in a cramped area and conversing. That was apparently imposed coexistence. Being in prison is one hell of a thing. Being in prison in Africa is multiple ‘wahala’. Look at a Prison like New Bell constructed in the colonial times to retain about 800 inmates but is actually holding about four times that number of whom majority are pre-trial detainees. If you consider the heat and mosquitoes and the risk of epidemic outbreaks, your passage through this place is a test of resilience and luck
You never can really understand the society you live in if you don’t visit places like the prison.
Njei Timah Moses