“Hang Us, Please”
- A plea from those condemned to death
By Ranee Mohamed
Those condemned to death, living on death row in the Welikade Prison in Borella are asking for a better life.
“Hang us, if you cannot treat us better,” urged a section of the prisoners, appealing to The Sunday Leader to plead their case and get them a better life.
“There are about 200 who have been condemned to death. But we are five people living in a space, 7’ by 9’. Our cry is a cry for all of us inmates in here. We are kept locked inside and in here. Together with us live mice, rats, cockroaches and bugs. Recently we found a reptile and put it in a bottle and gave it to one of the sirs, who come in here to see to our well being,” said (Name withheld) No. 1.
“We are taken out at 6.30 a.m. Then we have to rush out with our buckets, plastic bottles and shopping bags in which our body wastes have collected through the night. There is a big rush at this time. Everyone rushes to splash their collected urine down the drain, and it spatters around,” said No. 1.
He went on to point out that the sea of urine splashing all over their bodies does not bother them, for that is prime time. A time when their breakfast is wheeled in and the toilet doors open.
“So all at once, there is a big rush – to use the toilet and consume the rice. We have no complaints about the food. But it is rice, rice and rice every day. We long for a cool drink, if not a cool beer. But that is a fantasy. Drinking Coca Cola is a dream. We have not seen a cutlet, a piece of cake or even a biscuit. Sometimes on Avurudu Day we are allowed to consume a packet of rice from home and then we can eat a biscuit or two. But for twelve long years now, I have not had a piece of papaw,” said No. 1.
“My dream is to eat an avocado or a piece of mango or pineapple,” said (Name withheld) No. 2. “I really do not know why, but all of us yearn to eat some fruits. We know we have done wrong. We all repent. As we wake up, as we go to sleep all we think of is why on earth we committed the killings and did those dealings that got us in here. There are hundreds of us in here who have now realized what we have done. The rehabilitation programmes have not changed us. I know “that asking for a presidential pardon is too much, but at least treat us better,” urged No. 2.
“The nights are a nightmare. It is a time when rats are active and they scramble over us. For us who have not seen a car in a long time, these rats look as big as Volkswagens. But it is not the rats which keep us awake. It is the lives we have led before the wrongs were committed. It was a life we took for granted and one single wrong deed has snatched that life away from us. Today, we hardly have space to move. That is because the only life we have is in a cell. We cannot turn without knocking on a fellow inmate and then he turns and knocks on the other – it is a chain reaction – soon everyone in the cell is awake. If we have to use the toilet, we use the shopping bags or buckets with us. Through the night, we collect our body waste in plastic bottles and shopping bags and wait for morning. If one of us is ill, then the others cannot sleep either. Sometimes we squat on the floor of our cell through the night. A jailor would come and hold a torch and mumble about our Karma and go away,” said No. 01.
“We are kept inside the cell all through the day and night. We are supposed to be taken out for half an hour for exercise. But this time is limited to twenty minutes – from about 8.30 a.m. Then we are locked in again,” said No. 2.
“We do not even have the checkered clothing that should be given to us. We are told that there is a shortage,” said No. 1.
“I really do not say that we are innocent. We have made mistakes. But for some of us the killings have been for the sake of a coconut, a fence or a land issue; or the travails of a love affair. Over a decade has passed and all of us have repented each day,” said No. 1.
“Most of us are aged sixty, sixty five, seventy, seventy two years. There is an eighty three year old inmate among us. He is called Kiri Menika. Kiri Menika has to be held and taken to the toilet. Kiri Menika has to be bathed too. Even though he uses a walking stick, he is finding it difficult to get around. This is because the eye sight of each one of us is affected. Some of us cannot hear. But we have no way of taking treatment for our dimming eye sight and failed hearing,” said No. 1.
“Over one hundred of us bathe from one tank and there are only three toilets for us to use,” said (Name with held) No. 3 and went on to say that it is impossible for them to sleep – “We are boiling in here. It is so hot and we just cannot ignore the way the mosquitoes and bugs feast on us. When a new person comes in here he cries out saying he cannot live in here. But as time flies, we all get used to staying here under these conditions,” said No. 3.
“We all have children. There are only about fifteen to twenty people in here who are not married. The rest are married and have children. But there is no way of seeing them or our wives. We really do not know how they are living. We have all done mistakes and we wish we had never done any wrong. We never thought the repercussions are this serious and this long.,” said No. 3.
“I have been in here for over twelve years now. Each night I engage in prayer. I miss my children and as I pray, I wish with all my heart that the doors would just open and I will be able to walk away,” said (Name withheld) No. 4.
Speaking unintelligibly, No. 4 said that he feels like he is reaching a state of insanity.
“It is possible to lose one’s sanity here. It happened to Theye Kola Maama (Tea leaf Uncle) about eight months ago. He lived among us and then after his appeal case, he lost his mind. He began muttering and shouting and spitting all over the place. Then he was taken to Ward No. 9 for treatment and then brought back and is now in the Pansal Watuwa. We feel sorry for him. He was once a well-to-do businessman who has children who are university-educated,” said No. 4.
According to these inmates, there are several senior citizens on death row. Among them, is Bicycle Maama (Bicycle Uncle) who is about eighty four years old. “He can neither hear nor see properly. We try our best to help these ageing inmates,” said No. 4.
“I feel it is better to be hanged than to be locked up this way. Knowing that all this will not end for as long we live surely makes us want to die. Our plea is – if you cannot make life better for us please hang us,” appealed the inmates who are condemned to death.
“We are doing the best we can”
Commissioner General of Prisons
When The Sunday Leader contacted the Commissioner of Prisons about the woes of these prisoners, he said that the prison administration always has the welfare of the prisoners in mind.
“We are doing the best we can for these prisoners,” said Commissioner General of Prisons P. W. Kodippili.
Commissioner General Kodippili went on to point out however that though the number of those sentenced to death have increased, the number of cells have not increased. He went on to draw light to a time when people were hanged and the remaining few were kept in a cell for their turn.
‘Today, the number of cells remain the same but the number of prisoners is increasing. There was one year where we put eight people in one cell. But now we have reduced that number to four or five in one cell. If we were able to reduce it further, we certainly would have,’ said the Commissioner General.
“They are occupying the same old building. It is to improve their facilities that we are hoping to move the prisoners to Mahara and Watareka,’ said Commissioner General of Prisons P. W. Kodippili and went on to state that the prisoners condemned to death will be moved to Mahara when the proposed facilities are in place.
The Sunday Leader also learns that prisoners on death row have doubled in the recent past.