SLAMMERS

I have no knowledge of jails/prisons. I was always impressed by what Malcolm X did behind bars. I remember being impressed when I heard the American journalist Colman McCarthy, who was my first inspiration to become a journalist, talk about spending a night in jail for the purpose of a column. I always admire journalists who report from the inside.

I always though I would end up in jail. I have created jails for myself.

I am currently reading Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, who fled prison in Australia, before being tortured in another in India under another identity, and then thrown back in jail in Europe for his original crime of armed robberies.

But this paper thin insight does not prevent me from pontificating on the topic, as on others. My theory, which was based on one case as are many of my theories, is this: if you are well-liked in your community, your chances of going to jail are very slim. If you are socially isolated, a loner, have enemies, or people who are jealous of your behavior, and you happen to be near the scene of a crime, or are somewhat connected to the crime, perpetrator or victim, but still innocent, your chances of being jailed increase dramatically.

If you've seen it, think of Randall Adams in the movie, The Thin Blue Line.

I didn't hesitate to share this theory with western neighbors during a conversation in Makeni, Sierra Leone. If I remember correctly, the case in point concerns a man who was jailed after his wife died in bed, several hours after being in a serious motorcycle crash. My theory's theory is that it is all the more relevant, the weaker the judicial system is.

In this example, I believe that if the man had gotten along in the community, and with his wife's family, he probably wouldn't still be in jail several years later, awaiting a trial on dubious charges in a crawl so slowly system, which should really just revert to traditional courts for the time being, at least for affairs not of the state.

My theory was loosely based on one of the many stories of my Burkinabe friend JB.

His cousin is in jail for the murder of a man who came to his neighborhood on the outskirts of Abidjan asking for money on Christmas Eve several years ago.

The cousin apparently asked that a few local thugs teach him a lesson. They may have punched him dead.

Police found JB's cousin playing guitar in the early morning hours; while a man lay dead in the back of his courtyard tied to an electric pole. This story, you see, has actually very little to do with my theory, since he does sound partly guilty, even if he never touched the man.

Three years later, JB's cousin remains in jail without a trial, at the MACA tower B42 in Abidjan. JB went to visit once.

Now, a friend has called saying his cousin is very sick and needs 20 dollars to buy medication to save himself. So begins the local version of promises for money, credit and payments related to family ties. Beware of who calls you a brother sister uncle auntie cousin in these parts.

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