Prison life can break the soul


Prison awareness and outreach is a regular activity under the Inmate-Outmate calendar of activities of the Bomana Prison rehabilitation programme to inform the public about the inherent dangers of prison life and its moments of truth.
In this article, inmate Charles Kauna recalls how and why he came into prison and the life he encountered as a State prisoner. He hopes his story can help the reader and the public to avoid the possibility of getting into prison.
Kauna says, “The vacancies (in prison) are readily available when you commit a crime. The qualifications: Get arrested by police; appear in court; get convicted. Benefits – eat pure rice and tinned fish, say ‘yes boss’ every day, cut grass every day, depression, lonely nights and nightmares, catch TB, lose loved ones, painful feelings, stressful life, day dreams, bad days and the list goes on.”
He says there are many ways to find a job in prison. When you drink alcohol and take drugs – leading to committing a crime like child abuse, incest, wife-bashing, domestic violence, rape, sexual touching, robbery, stealing, murder, misappropriate, misuse office, fraud, dangerous driving causing death, injuring someone during street fights, destruction of property belonging to others, etc.
Kauna is from West New Britain. He was convicted and sentenced to death when he was 17 years old in 1997. He was transferred from Lakiemata Prison in Kimbe to Bomana in 1997. His death sentence was overturned on appeal and replaced with a life sentence. He has been in prison since the day of arrest for the last 23 years.

The naked beach
Kauna recalls that the first place of any decent human being facing imprisonment is the “naked beach,” a place of humiliation and the start of all freedom being taken away from you.
You are searched and any civilian clothes, jewellery and attachments are taken off from you. This is where your character, ethics, integrity and credibility is tested to the core. It is a place where you trade your freedom for sorrows, your high life for humiliation, you exchange wealth for simplicity; you exchange social status for humiliation whether you’re a villager, settlement person, youth, lawyer, politician, policemen, warder or criminal.
Prison sees no class – everyone is classed the same regardless of your social standing. Because everyone eats the same pure rice and tinned fish, drinks the same black tea, wears the same red and blue uniform, sleeps on the same kind of bed, issued the same type of beddings, and everyone says “yes boss” every day. It makes no difference.

Underground: 1997-2004
Charles Kauna recalls when he was transferred from Lakiemata to Bomana as one of the first persons to be sentenced to death. Upon arrival at Bomana, he was taken straight into the underground foray, the very maximum high security prison at the Bomana or (MSI). Inside this place was real hell. It was three years of solitary confinement. It is here that many prisoners can have mental issues. It is a place of worry and sickness, loneliness; it is a human zoo and of cruel and inhuman conditions one would have not expected in freedom.
He says he was unprepared for the realities that struck him inside the maximum security prison. It exposed him to all the harshness and, at times, sheer pain and despair. It was a sad affair to have gone through this struggle. Everywhere he turned had a brick wall that is never ending. He was unprepared to face it or did not have the knowledge that he would be in such an environment. This radically changed his world and dream of completing his education, of having a family or using the time to do something more productive for himself and his family.
Looking back now, he recalls that visitors were restricted and sunshine was a rare commodity. They were only allowed two hours outside and the rest was in pitch black darkness day in and day out. It was hell in paradise.
That experience filled him with regret, bitterness, fear and hatred. His heart was to the top packed with sorrow, pain and suffering. His life was on a downward spiral.

Trade off in 2004
Kauna says when he looked around the prison cell, it was just brick walls and a bucket to take his waste that had to be emptied every morning. Taking a shower is done in open air for the two hours you are allowed out. Life was very difficult.
There were days he wished he had not gone into the prison. He started blaming the boys he was with at that time. He thought of where he could have been had he not followed the boys. It was wrong company and peer pressure that led to him being incarcerated, he says. But he blames no one now, it was his own decision to have followed them.
He had no visits and no support, he was alone, lonely and sad. The people he knew were not there when he needed them most. He was alone and it was a lonely struggle, Kauna recalls. He further states at one point he contemplated suicide.
But one day he decided to read a Bible that was delivered to his cell by an elder of the Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) faith. He read Mathew 11:28-31 that says “Come to me those who are wary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me. You will find rest for your soul”
Charles says he prayed inertly after reading the word of God. He then made a conscious decision there in his cell to turn his sorrows, pain and suffering to God and decided to give his life to Jesus and accepted Him as personal Lord and Saviour. He said the sinner’s prayer.
Following that Kauna decided to empty the negative and the impurities from his heart that he was faced with particularly the pressures that weighted him down such as guilt, resentment, doubt and worry.
He decided that he could not have both Christ and the feelings were taking up the space in his heart to pull him to his lowest point in life.
When he let go of the negative and the impurities of guilt and beating himself for his past mistakes, his heart was filled with joy, peace, confidence and creativity.
People started visiting him in prison. Some of the first people to pay him visits were Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) members.
Because of the love and compassion shown to him he joined the SDA faith to love the Lord Jesus Christ and serve him there.
Through church participation and his new-found spiritual growth, he decided there not to give the enemy a place to come and rob him of his joy and peace. After his conversion, God worked wonders and miracles in his life.
He was transferred from the underground prison to the main prison in 2004. He also had his death sentence reduced to life imprisonment.
Not only that, he got baptised and moved to the minimum security prison at Bomana for low risks prisoners.
Kauna now serves as the Sabbath school secretary and superintendent at the Bomana MSU SDA Church.

Lessons learnt
Kauna says there are few lessons that we can draw from his life experience and offers the following advice:

1. Understand the power of emptying the toxins and impurities that hold you back. If you allow the negative or impurities such as anxiety, envy anger, bitterness or pride to grab hold of your mind, those attitudes will lead you to make negative decisions that will affect your life in negative ways. If you choose to develop and maintain positive attitudes you will see positive results. Positive health physically and spiritually. Even in a fallen world you can be able to overcome those obstacles. Ask God to help you each day to deal with impurities and to overcome them. It’s not easy but if you practice it daily you surely will be like an eagle.
2. Respond rather than react to the changes that come our way each moment of time. Change will sometimes surprise you; if the change is negative you may be in a crisis mood. Whatever happens avoids reacting negatively. Bear in mind, you cannot control situations and people but you can control how you react and respond to them.
3. Be accountable to your life. You’re not a victim, don’t blame others for what happened. Avoid self-pity and excuses. Regardless of what happened in the past, you have the power to change now for the future. Focus on God’s promises to give you the strength.
4. Examine your soul; identify specific types of attitude such as pride, fear, anger, sadness, jealousy, doubt, resentment, bitterness and low self-esteem. Confess negative attitude and repent and ask God to transform you.
5. Forgive yourself and others – accept God’s forgiveness for our sins and being faithful to God. Forgive others who sinned against you, doing so releases you. Flush out/empty negative attitude and make room for positive ones to fill you.
6. Learn to receive and give love. There more you receive and the more you give the more positive your life is. Pray for the Holy Spirit to manifest more love.
7. Take charge of your thoughts. Replace negative thoughts with positives ones. The mind is the battle field and transform from the inside out.
8. The choices we make each day affect the way we come out in the end. Choices are big, small, significant and less significant but they all affect us. From food we eat to the way we relate to those around us. We must choose properly. Wisdom to choose properly and wisely comes from God’s Word.

• The author is an inmate at the Bomana Prison and chairman of the peace and reconciliation committee comprising senior prison staff and prisoners.