“Prison is a place nobody would want to spend even a day. A person can spend days in cinema halls and any other places looking happy, but the demeanour of a person changes the moment it is pronounced on her that she is spending hours or a day in prisons or cells.”
These were the words of a 32-year-old-lady who was sentenced to two years imprisonment a year ago for attempting to transport dried leaves suspected to be Indian hemp (wee) into the Nsawam Prison.
The lady, Faustina Appiah (pseudonym), said she was sent by a certain man to deliver the items concealed in food items and detergents to his son who was an inmate of the prison.
Madam Faustina said she was arrested and handed over to the police by the prison authorities for prosecution.
She was later sent to court and sentenced after she failed to produce the person who sent her with the items.
Faustina, a single mother of two, until her sentence used to sell fruits at Kpobiman, a town close to Amasaman.
She claimed her husband left their matrimonial home for another woman three years ago when she gave birth to their second child.
She then sold different kinds of fruits, depending on its season, to take care of the needs of her children.
Narrating her ordeal, Madam Faustina said three years ago, she was on her way to Hebron on the Nsawam highway for prayers when she met a middle-aged man who begged her to deliver some food items to his son in prison after church.
The items which were concealed in polythene bag contained food items and detergents. She collected it with the intention of passing by the Nsawam Medium Prisons to deliver it after church.
She narrated that around 2:00pm after she had closed from church, she went to the Nsawam Prisons to deliver the items to the said inmate whose name was given as Razak Mohammed.
“When I got to the reception, the prison officers at the gate asked me the name of the inmate and the sort of items I was carrying. They then collected the items from me and opened the polythene bag. It contained two tubers of yam and a bar of soap. One of the officers brought a knife and divided the yam into two parts. To my surprise, there was something wrapped with a brown paper and hidden in the yam. The officers cut open the soap and found another wrapper in the soap. They then told me I was trying to transport ‘wee’ into prison and handed me over to the Nsawam Police,” she narrated.
Faustina said, “I did all I could but nobody believed me but rather told me I deliberately did that.”
She was later taken to court and sentenced to two years imprisonment for a crime she knew nothing about.
“Leaving my children and trade, I wasted two years of my life in prison for a crime I never committed,” she narrated with tears in her eyes how she ended up in prison for dealing in contraband.
Contraband per prison terms are things that are criminal in nature and pose threat to security of inmates and officers.
It can be weapons, narcotics, mobile phones, mobile chips, alcohol, drugs, unauthorised food, among others.
“There are certain items that may be permitted for use outside prison but prohibited and considered contraband in prison,” Superintendent Vitalis Aiyeh, Head of Public Relations Department of the Ghana Prison Service, said.
He mentioned that the use of tobacco, for instance, within the society is not criminal, but it is considered criminal in prison.
“Drug is considered contraband if it is not a prescribed drug from a qualified medical doctor or if the person taking it does not have any proof of sickness,” he added.
He said inmates with chronic diseases such as diabetes and others are allowed to take their drugs in prisons but there must be a proof from a medical doctor.
How Contraband Are Sent To Prisons
Superintendent Aiyeh stated that these prohibited items can be sent to prison by prison officers, inmates or their visitors.
“Some unscrupulous officers through selfish means send these prohibited items, be it narcotics, drugs, cigarettes to their favourite inmates to sell in prison. Inmates who are sometimes sent outside the prison yard to work when returning sometimes carry these contrabands into the yard when not searched properly as well as visitors,” he disclosed.
Superintendent Aiyeh explained that some of the inmates “hide the goods in their anus or private parts, while others even swallow. For some visitors, some keep the items in their hair, especially the women, while others hide it in food items and detergents like that of Faustina.”
The PRO added that a lot of persons have been arrested for their attempt to transport contraband in prison, which, he underscored, is alarming.
For now, the prisons, he said, have no special device in detecting contraband.
“We use to have scanners but they only detect metallic items and so we employ the traditional method of detecting these items and this is through searching.
When inmates, officers and visitors come to the prisons, they are thoroughly searched before they are allowed to enter. Most of the suspects are arrested through this means. In the prison yard, we use intelligence gathering to detect contraband in inmate’s cells,” Superintendent Aiyeh pointed out.
He narrated that in some developed countries, they use trained sniffing dogs, ferromagnetic detectors and radio frequency detectors in detecting contraband, but Ghana is yet to get there.
Prison officers arrested for dealing in contraband lose their jobs, some get their ranks reduced, while others are suspended depending on the items involved.
If the items smuggled are narcotics or any deadly implement, that officer can even be sacked.
For inmates, they are handed over to police for prosecution, as well as their visitors.
Framed Up Victims
In Faustina’s case, the head of the Prison Service Public Relations Department said, “There have been instances where victims have an unknowingly arrested for dealing in contraband but ignorance of the law is not an excuse.”
In Faustina’s case, he added, “She was the one caught with the items, which was why she had to be handed over to the police to investigate her.”
The Way Forward
Superintendent Aiyeh urged all to be law-abiding citizens and cautious, adding, “When you are sent to deliver an item to an inmate in prison and you think the sender is not a trusted fellow, decline to avoid being arrested and prosecuted for crime you have not committed.”