Over the last few years, I have visited Uganda at least 10 times. One of the most interesting things that my fellow travelers and I do is spend a little time visiting and assisting low-security prisons.
Our first introduction to the Ugandan prison system was using inmates to help with some of our minor construction activities like assembling swing sets, installing solar panels, and improving fish ponds. After the prisoners help us, we take them out for food and a milk shake. The prisoners seemed to enjoy the brief respite from their daily grind and, of course, the milk shake.
As we got to know the wardens and the staffs of the prisons, we have started to see what we can be done to improve conditions. One of the first things we did was install a swing set for the children of the guards (who live in very modest houses close to the prison). Next we helped install a volleyball court for the prisoners. We provided the poles, net, and balls. According to one guard, the prisoners enjoy playing the guards in a “friendly” match every weekend. When I asked who usually wins, a guard replied that the matches are pretty even.
On my most recent trip to northern Uganda, we provided a medium-sized TV and a subscription to a multi-channel service to a low-security men’s prison in Lira. The prisoners enjoy watching international soccer matches.
My principal interest going forward, however, is to improve training opportunities, so the inmates will have a better shot at surviving once they are released. On my most recent African visit, I chatted briefly with a Ugandan involved in prison reform. Hopefully, this connection will help us determine the best way to enhance training opportunities.
The prisons I have visited are not as bleak as I had first imagined. But they are still pretty difficult. The men sleep on the floor, crowded 50+ to a room. They work from 7 am until to just after noon. Usually in the fields. Their afternoons are relatively free. On one afternoon occasion, the ward gave us permission to show the inmates a movie: “Raiders of the Lost Arc.”