What it means to... be raped in prison and be infected with HIV

In February 2005, while at Masese landing site, Jinja District, my friend Emma and I were rounded up by police on allegation of theft. A one Ajambo, a fish monger and a resident of Walukuba, a suburb with refugee camp-like structures between Bugembe and Masese, reported to police that we had stolen her smoked fish and fishing nets worth Shs3m.

We were taken to Jinja Central Police Station where we spent two days and later transferred to Kirinya government prison, Jinja, awaiting trial.

Hell in cells
When we got to the cells, inmates drifted by and filched swift glances at us (new inmates), many dressed in shreds of clothing with no shoes.

Inmates use old boxes as pillows on a cracked concrete floor. Most of them get lice from the old blankets provided in jail cells.

There was only one window in the cell, about 13-feet away from the floor, closer to the ceiling. It had iron bars in it.

On arrival, we were ordered to clean the dirty floor with bear hands which I thought was abuse of our rights yet we had just survived mob action. The old inmates had powers to beat and remove food or other necessities from new entrants.

I decided to obey whatever they asked of me but obedience meant more tasks like giving an account of why I was taken to jail, entertaining the inmates and making chappati which meant banging my palms side by side on the floor until inmates felt they are tired of listening to my screams.

The sodomy
By the time the “lighter” punishments were over, I had adapted to the situation in prison. However, on one cold and dark night, barely a week in prison, I was attacked while on my rag (bed) by two energetic inmates whom I didn’t recognise by name or face but by their actions.

I was forcefully undressed of the yellow shorts and a shirt. I thought I was undergoing the normal punishments but to my surprise, the inmates started demanding for sex. When I resisted, they raped me. They inserted pieces of soap into my anus before forcefully penetrating.

They pounced on me, over-powered and started mounting me as if I was an animal. They even fought about who should rape first and how long they should take. It was a horrible experience I’d never dreamt of.

They never used a condom. In prison, it is hell. Who avails you condoms in hell, who cares? Even when you shout, no prison warder will come to your rescue until morning when you are taken out to work.

After my acquittal, my wife got concerned about my change in behaviour. I decided not to share a bed with her and I had difficulty sitting on chairs. I preferred to sleep all the time and the wounds in my private parts got severe and I had to use salt to cleanse them.

My wife tried to probe me but I never opened up. I instead told her I was just traumatised by prison since it was my first time. I later developed a severe cough which forced my wife and other family members to take me to Jinja Main hospital where a nurse counselled and tested us for HIV/Aids and TB.

After a little while, the doctor brought the results and first looked kindly at us before starting to give examples of how ARVS can prolong people’s lives.

She asked what I would do if found positive. I become suspicious and wondered why the nurse was asking such questions after narrating to us how ARVs can make people live a healthy life. I told her I would start on them immediately.

She then took our baby to the doctor’s room and when the baby cried, instead of bringing it back, she called the mother and they talked for more than 30 minutes.

My wife later returned to the room, bursting in tears. The nurse told me I was HIV positive and my wife negative. I cried and asked her (nurse) how come I was positive yet my wife was negative. The answer she gave was that there are discordant couples in Uganda.

My wife asked me how it was possible that I tested positive and yet we’d both tested negative during our antenatal visit in the same hospital. I told her what had happened to me in prison and why I had difficulties in seating and sleeping.

Life after HIV results
After testing positive, the doctor at the hospital advised me to start on medication and taught me how to live positively. She told me to take the worries away and that I will live a healthy life.

My dream of being a journalist was shuttered by HIV/Aids results as I ‘m always bedridden. Other people have responded to medication but I have failed. I’m now very thin and weak.

I let my wife marry another person who was not sick. I never wanted to infect her. I had promised to protect her from all things that might ruin her for a long time and I can’t change my mind, maybe she will be able to raise our baby.

Taking ARV drugs without food is not easy. I have to depend on handouts yet if I had not been raped in jail, I would have been able to provide for myself. It is painful!

Also, if it is hard for some people to complete a dosage of malaria treatment yet they know they will be fine after treatment, how about me who takes tablets every day with the knowledge that I’m going to die?

It is not only the pain of my ill health that I have to handle, I also have to deal with the fact that I have no roof over my head.

On July 11, 2011, my house in the Jinja slums of Kibuga-Mbata in Masese, was among the 10 burnt. I was left with nothing. I feel alone and forgotten. The world is very narrow for me. I think I am living in hell while still on earth.

As told to Paul Tajuba
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