Locked Up

At the Police Station

If I had left one minute earlier, or one minute later, if I had walked to the stage instead of taking a boda boda, if I had skipped breakfast, or taken breakfast in mess, if I had made my bed….if I had done any of these things, I might not have taken matatu number KXX XXXX( am not protecting the identity of the matatu; I can barely remember its colour except the yellow line in the middle)… and if I hadn’t taken matatu number KXX XXXX, we might not have been stopped by cops and I wouldn’t be having a criminal record as we speak.

Okay, it’s not as serious as it sounds but I have a green slip that can show I was fined Kshs. 500 for a minor traffic offense of not tying a seatbelt for my own safety. Criminal case no. TR something something. I won’t state it. Just in case it’s illegal.

Friday morning, when the cops pulled us over, I thought it would be the usual harassing of the driver and conductor, after which the conductor would discreetly hand over a bribe; then we would drive off amid indulgent smiles from the passengers. Or perhaps there would be no bribe because the matatu seemed in good condition and there were no extra passengers. Instead, the cops entered the mat, looked around, and told us we had all been arrested for not wearing the seatbelts. Not even the driver had buckled up.

It was futile protesting; we were caught red-handed. As much as it may promote corruption, on-the-spot fines should really be introduced, because we ended up spending the whole day in the pursuit of justice. Not exactly, but it sounds nice to say, “in the pursuit of justice”.

We were first driven to the police station at Kasarani, and that was when it hit me that I had been arrested. I excitedly tweeted (follow me on twitter already). Really, really arrested. I thought we would pay our fines (or bribes) at the police station and be done with it. We were led into this room behind bars (confirm with photo above); and I realized I may have to call someone to bail me out. I called my mum. She was really understanding and promised to be there soon. I tweeted this. ( I really am addicted. To twitter.) The cops took our names, called us out one by one, put us in another matatu; ironically overloaded and without seatbelts, and drove us to the high court.

The High Court. For my first crime! (Not that there will be more to come…). Before you can be arraigned in court, you are first put in these cells. Real cells, leave alone that big airy room at the police station. The Nairobi Law Courts building has these basement cells, they looked so desolate and had this permanent smell of urine and disinfectant. There were solitary cells (you just see someone desolately curled up at the corner), crowded cells, overcrowded cells, empty cells with red lines in the middle, cells with a lone guy staring blankly through the bars (what are you in for, murder? He didn’t answer my telepathic question.) they have this common feature: all seemed dark and airless.

By the time I was realizing I should have taken a pic, the cops were trying to put us into order (we were like 200 traffic offenders) and this fat, obnoxious cop took my phone and switched it off. He had alcohol breath (never have I hated alcohol breath this much; this guy spitting as he spoke in your face!) yet it was around 10 am. We were then put in this cell, where I spent the better part of the morning amidst other criminals.
The cell wasn’t so bad. It was dark like all the rest, but the women were friendly, some had complicated cases like fraud, others had been in for days and were dying for a shower, and all I was worried about was my phone so I could tweet away the anxiety (if your case is not heard on a Friday, you have to spend the entire weekend in custody till Monday.) or call my mum.

An office at one of the basement cells...

Eventually, the cop gave me back my phone after a long(ish) emotional struggle with him. I told him I could give him money once I got out; equivalent to the phone even, while he kept said he’s fat enough already, he doesn’t need any money. He kept going from cell A to cell B, talking to inmates, opening and locking the cells, calling out those who were due in court etc. at one time, he called out, “Onyancha? Onyancha..” I shuddered. I thought, Onyancha here with us? Turns out it was a sick joke.

We were finally called out, and my, wasn’t I glad to leave the dingy cell. To the airy Traffic Court on the second floor. My mum had found a relative who works at the law courts and was hanging out there while we waited to be read our charges. It was my first time in a court too…there was a case ongoing involving ATM Card theft. It sounded almost John Grisham like. Questions like, “did you see the accused or not?” “Answer the question. Yes, or no.” “Mr X, on the morning of 24th November, 2008. You went to the ATM at M Building, 24th Street, Nairobi and withdrew Kshs. 8, 243.76 cents. True?” WFT? Like you can remember how much you withdrew two years ago.

We spent two agonizing hours being read our various charges, paying our fines and by the time I was walking out of the courtroom, I was ready to take 10 showers and 5 dinners.

Buckle up next time. Alternatively, know someone big in the police ranks and you’ll be let go at the police station. These traffic rules are in effect and guys are arrested randomly. The fine for being an extra passenger is Kshs. 2000, plus of course Kshs. 500 for not wearing a seatbelt. The fine for alighting/boarding at an undesignated stage is Kshs. 10, 000. Yeah, believe it, because Mama’s brother was fined that much.

P.S. I agonized over the title of this post… “Savvy’s First Arrest, In Court, Savvy Goes to Jail, Jailbird, Convict etc” so I asked Wamathai and he suggested locked up.