My shoes stolen!

Shoes One Sunday morning we go for the first time to a church service for those condemned to death in the Maximum Security Prison in Kampala. Some of them are already sitting on mats of banana leaves on the ground. They pulled out their plastic sandals and put them down the side. At the time that I go off my shoes, I get protests of my hosts: "You are our guest and may be holding on your shoes." I explain that I would like to be treated as like themselves, just as people among themselves, and yes, as people in prison.

During the church service the pastor asked if I as their guest want to tell them something. I tell them about my reasons for not saying "prisoners", but talk about "people in prison" instead. For me they are in the first place 'people' and designating them as 'prisoners' I think is stigmatizing. They listen a few minutes almost breathlessly to the Mzungu [white man] until I finish and all loudly applaud. As I return to my place, I hear the pastor ask to pray together. It is quiet, but just as I would again sit down I see someone walking away with my shoes! I am not in a position to say anything about it, so I think: "Well now I've got a real problem! Someone steals my shoes, so I will have to walk back on my socks."

Sandals Just before the end of the service I suddenly see my shoes on the edge! After the service a number of people sentenced to death say thanks to us for coming. They ask us for some things which they urgently need. They thank me for what I said. Then someone says to me: "We have nothing to give you to thank you. But we want you to know how happy we are that you are coming, so we have polished your shoes."

When I went back a couple of weeks later as a guest in the Maximum Security Prison in Kampala, I am asked again to say something. I tell them about the above incident, so how I experienced my last visit to them. Everyone laughed: "The Mzee [old respected man] thought his shoes were stolen!" So I tell them I could not get to sleep in the night after my previous visit. My first thought was that my shoes were stolen while their first thought was how to thank me! Who has a problem in terms of ideas? I tell them that I usually leave 'richer' from prison than how I came. And I thank them for that.