Last week, our group traveled to Lira, Uganda, to construct swing sets at primary schools and rural communities. The first swing set (a double with 6 seats) was built at School for the Deaf (named Nancy). The second swing set was for the children of the guards at a nearby prison (for petty thieves). The prison wardeness agreed to provide labor.
The prison labor worked out so well that we asked about using them on some other jobs. The wardeness was agreeable. So the next day we picked up two prisoners–dressed in their bright yellow uniforms–and a guard for a swing set installation at an Anglican-sponsored women’s center.
The prisoners worked hard leveling the land, helping with assembly, digging holes, and mixing and pouring concrete. After we got the frame for the swing set upright and installed, we adjourned to a Christian (Path Ministries) restaurant on the other side of Lira. Just the 8 of us: the driver, the guard, the 2 prisoners, our construction foreman, our in-country coordinator, and us (2 Utahns).
The restaurant specialized in American food, but had a couple of Ugandan dishes. We tried to get the prisoners and the guard to try pizza or some other American dish, but couldn’t. We tried to get them to have milk shakes, but they declined. The waitress said that the locals don’t like milk shakes. However, the prisoners did try the ice cream. They also ordered more traditional Ugandan food.
After my pizza arrived, I shared a piece with the guard and one of the prisoners. I also shared a little bit of my milk shake. Eventually, the guard ordered a milk shake and the prisoner a smoothie. I think everyone had a good time. The one prisoner said he was 16 years old and had received a 4-year sentence for stealing bread. Sounds like something out of Les Miserables.
While we were eating, the wardeness called and wanted to know where her prisoners were. I guess she was worried. When we arrived back at the prison, we were given a brief tour. The wardeness wanted us to install a volleyball court complete with net. But the courtyard inside the prison was too small. She also told me that the doctor thought that the young prisoner who had worked with us was really 18 or 19 years old.
The prison held 128 non-violent inmates, with approximately 30 to a cell. Conditions are obviously very cramped. There were no beds; the prisoners slept on the concrete floor. Conditions were tough, but seemed clean.
The next day, 4 prisoners helped install solar panels on the roofs of the dormitories at School for the Deaf. We also dropped off materials for a volleyball court (net, poles, ball, and cement) for the prisoners. The wardeness had decided to install the court across the road from the prison.