Slowly the sun rose, burning up the haze, allowing the building to come into view. An ugly monstrosity with a size incongruous with the surrounding areas.
This was Shando.
In 2011, OK Security had approached the British government about helping it reduce the cost of prison services. What this company offered, was to take foreign prisoners from Britain to Nigeria to continue their sentences for about half of the cost of keeping them in England. In Britain, this yearly cost per convict averaged between forty to sixty thousand pounds, allied to the fact that prisons were overcrowded as a result of the new government’s tough stance on jailing.
Justification for this hard line approach on funding a new Nigerian penal gulag, was that it would be abroad and non European Union prisoners would be housed there.
As a result, the government had disengaged from the prisoner rights aspects of the European Union by contracting OK Security to take two hundred foreign nationals out of the UK system as a trial scheme.
Located in south east Nigeria, close to the border with the Cameroons, Shando Prison known streetwise as the Shando Hilton, was built.
OK Security now owned the largest privately owned Supermax prison in Africa. Construction took two years and during this phase, over 29 workers died from snake, leopard and hippo attacks. Other deaths occurred through malaria, heatstroke and dehydration. During the construction dig, crews often found themselves struggling for breath and some collapsed. However, OK Security was not particularly perturbed enough by these incidents to run chemical or toxicology tests to ascertain the causes of the problem.
When it opened in late 2013, the first two hundred non EU prisoners were transported from British prisons to Africa. At one and half metres by two, the cells were not comparable to those in Europe and with its tiny windows, was hotter inside than out. The cells had no mattresses, just beds shaped out of concrete.
The toilets were holes in the ground and soon the whole place would be permeated by the smell of human waste. Prisoner duties were to then include digging out the waste to provide fertiliser for the prison farm .
Other duties were going out at 7 am daily in chain gangs to build roads and water systems for the local villages. Soon, there would be no obese prisoners in this jail.
The guards and wardens were sadistic, often fed on videos on what prison life was like in Europe, where convicts regularly abused guards. Here, that type of abuse would only occur once, ending with the offender being shackled in solitary where he would be assailed with batons and made to lie down in his own excrement. This often led to sensory deprivation and repeat offenders taken into the jungle by 4 X 4s, told to make his way back to the prison two miles away. It was rare the offender made it back, as animals often feasted on him, with the guards officially noting that he died whilst making an escape attempt.
In Britain, prison life was sweet for many, Playstations, TVs, heated rooms and a choice of meals, among the many perks.
Public revulsion at this pampered existence, added to prisoner rights under the European Human Rights charter, meant the criminal justice system was not one to deter successive returns. The city riots of 2011 and the harsh sentences imposed on the culprits, further fuelled a desire for new ways of incarceration.
Bankers and the politicians, who had ruined the country financially, were of course, exempt from punishment.
The British government decided to extend the Shando scheme to its own citizens and nationals causing a huge uproar.
Street protests outside Whitehall, Houses of Parliament and Number Ten, by those opposing the move were loud and vociferous.
Placards read ‘Hell No, They Wont Go’, ‘Crime Done Here, Time Served Here’. Legal Aid driven solicitors fought vainly for their clients but to no avail, so on a June 2014 day, groups of convicts totalling two hundred and eighty were driven to the docks of London. Reminiscent of removals to Australia in the late 1700s, the prisoners were put on board a Royal Navy vessel bound for Calabar, as the British Government had opposed sending the convicts by air to Nigeria, citing costs.
A day later, the RN Vessel Dudley, an amphibious assault ship weighed anchor, amid heavy security from London and set course for Nigeria.
With the Atlantic Ocean rolling past, Ivan ‘Speedy’ Hoolihan was being consulted by all and sundry. Ferret faced Speedy was the prison escape expert, having managed to escape from prisons in Liverpool, Belmarsh and Birmingham.
He boasted there was no joint that could hold him and this ‘African lark with them jigaboos would be child’s play to get out from’.
Jones Tyrell had deemed himself as the head convict and with a shaven head and tattoos down the right side of his face, he did look menacing. He intended to take charge of the prison on arrival.
There was also the effeminate Luke, who talked about how great it would be if he got black male meat for his sexual liaisons. Added to this assortment, were convicts like Walter ‘The Snake’ Smith, paedophile gangs and the bad asses from Glasgow’s prisons.
Many days later, the vessel docked in Calabar and the prisoners loaded onto canvas covered lorries. With armed guards, the three hundred kilometre, five hour drive further south east began.
Hours later, the trucks turned off the motorway onto a bush track, with the prisoners being told to keep their arms and hands in, as it could be ripped off by marauding baboons. Over the last fifty kilometres, the trucks crossed razor tooth fish and crocodile infested rivers, and on many occasions the prisoners glimpsed saw scaled vipers and mamba snakes sunning themselves on tree branches and rocks. The guards gleefully told them, all these would be waiting for them if they decided to try and escape from the Shando Hilton. The convicts grew silent, as the sight of the prison hove into sight in the high noon.
With its hundred foot barbed wire topped walls, security towers every thirty feet with machine guns and as if going back in time, a moat with a draw bridge.
Inside the prison offices, ‘The new guests have arrived at the house, boss’ Sunday informed his superior.
The ‘boss’ slowly turned round in his luxurious office chair and faced his minion.
‘Make sure they are processed in properly, Sule’ said Lukaka Smart.
‘At once’ replied the subordinate leaving the room.
Four floors below, the new guests were being checked in bringing occupancy figures beyond its maximum of 1650.
‘All out’ barked the voice of Sunday Sule, head guard of the jail. In reflective sunglasses, he and his 30 strong team wore military fatigues, carrying automatic weapons, gas canisters and tasers.
‘Welcome to Africa, gentlemen. This’ pointing over his shoulder ‘is Shando. Please line up in rows’
Jonesy, who had established himself on the sea journey as the boss, spoke out ‘No nigger is going to tell me what to do, even in jungle country’. As he said this, Sunday motioned his staff forward. Three Taser armed guards fired probes carrying fifty thousand volts each into Jonesy’s chest. He fell down into a fit for almost ten seconds, whilst at the same time, he was hit with batons all over his body and then dragged feet first into solitary confinement.
As Jonesy was dragged away, Sunday turned to the others with a sneer on his face ‘Let me begin again. Welcome to Africa. As the heat and smells tell you, this is not England or Paris or Bonn where you have rights. Your various governments have forsaken you and you will serve your sentences as decreed by law. There is correctness here but not the political type. The Al Queada and white supremacy ones will all be treated the same. My staff and people here are not niggers or coons or any name you decide to call us ..at least not to our hearing. What has happened to your friend, will happen to anyone who steps out of line here at Shando and more. Do you see this book?’ He raised it high for everyone to see ‘It’s called A Human Rights Approach to Prison Management’ and then lit a match, setting it on fire.
‘If you choose to try to escape, your life will be worth nothing. There are many hungry creatures from hyenas to crocodiles out there that are waiting to feast on your European flesh.’
He paused for effect and lowered his voice ‘make no mistake. You are prisoners here and will be treated as such.’
Thus began life under a regime, which among its other rules made Muslims convicts shave their beards, as they had lost religious privileges for bringing their faith into disrepute, through their convictions. Shaven heads were forbidden and spirits quickly became broken.
Keeping time and sleep became chores through loneliness and boredom with a state of paranoia developing. The cells were home and no books were allowed, with definitely no computer games as there was no electricity to run these.
For the drug addicts among the prisoners, there were crude but very effective treatments methods. Addicts would be tied down with chains, often howling like dogs during their withdrawals for days on end. They ate and did their toileting on the spot, for upwards of two weeks detoxing all the chemicals in their system and it worked.
Exercise was mainly by going out to dig trenches and wells in local villages, being worked so hard that by the time they arrived back at Shando, being so weary that it was off to bed. This regime also reduced fights and back chat to the authorities.
Food fed was mostly from the jungle or whatever the prisoners came across in the course of digging, cutting and gathering duties. Snakes, wild pigs and turkeys were highly prized with the person credited with the find, having first choice of part to eat. Strangely, many dead animals were found with no hints as to the cause of death.
Eventually, the only class offered in the Shando system was world economics looking at socio data and in many ways rehabilitating prisoners by showing how lucky they were in their home countries.
Visitation was tough, as families had to find the almost seven hundred pounds air fare and then the arduous journey to the prison. However, conjugal areas were set aside and users for a fee, found privacy for pent up desires. For inmates who had no partners in the outside world, sex workers vetted by the prison, could be procured for a fee.
It was not all bad. Locally corn based alcoholic brew could be procured from the prison shop.
A rock band, only acoustics of course, had been set up called Hell Yes; We’re Guilty performing on alternate weekends in the unused library.
Fear of being sent to Shando spread in Britain, aided by a Prisons Service advert on UK television. This showed a prison guard, stood outside the walls of Shando picking his teeth with a machete while the other hand held up a chopped off snake’s head. His right booted foot was placed on top of a fearsome, but dead crocodile. He then speaks into the camera with a distinct African accent ‘Hello to you in Britain. If you commit a vile and heinous crime, you’ll be sent over here to stay with me. Niceeeess.’
Suicides strangely, were non existent in this prison world with its loss of humanity and degradation of the mind.
Complaints had led many in Europe to question Shando and its methods. Parliaments from Berlin to London and Paris asked if the goal of this jail was to change people or solely incarcerate.
It was noted that reoffending rates among Shando’s graduates were very low, less than 5%.
Even the forward thinking Norwegian prison authorities debated whether to send mass murderer Anders Breivik to Shando, where it was certain his Nazi saluting style would have an effect on his treatment there. The wardens at Shando avowed to shove his upright arm into his anal region.
An interesting offer at Shando was if any prisoner could escape its environs and get away with it, his sentence would be commuted and become free.
For the Brits in Shando, their minds started to plan escapes through watching films like the Great Escape and Shawshank Redemption, a few too many times.
Cue Speedy the escapologist. He had spotted water seeping in next to the moat bridge by the filthy water which surrounded it. He quickly worked out that just by kicking at the inside wall by the green fungi, the blocks caved in. His patient, methodical process began to bear fruit, when he had created a wide enough hole, to squeeze through with a depth of six feet. He kept digging and got onto softer but hotter soil when he stopped. There was heat emanating from below, which he didn’t understand.
Next day, the convicts were all building a new road to link some of the villages together. During the frequent breaks due to the heat, Speedy conferred with other British prisoners about his escape plan. He explained about the heat and strange happenings.
Ishmael, one of the convicted Muslim terrorists said ‘Maybe there’s an underground river or lake beneath that damm place. Better be careful you don’t unleash a flood or those bastard guards will shoot you.’
‘True’ added The Snake ‘However is there a way we can all end up by the wall to help you?’
‘Maybe. We can get gay Luke to create one of her fainting spells and we can all run to her to help her…it can work as we already have six feet deep under that fungi’
‘Nothing tried, nothing lost. I’m thankful for the tan but I hate this Godforsaken place’ added Snake.
Two days later, the plan went into motion. As the chain gang marched back into the gaol, Luke had his fainting spell, going down by the gates. The rest rushed to him with the guards ignoring them. Speedy supported by two others dug furiously under the pile to expand the hole.
What Speedy, the other convicts, guards and owners of this prison did not know, would hurt them.
The various dead animals, construction crews falling unconscious and some dying would soon be explained.
For under Shando, was an underground crater lake formed from an old volcano. It was in the same fault line as Lake Nyos in the Cameroon. The gas from this lake had killed thousands in 1986 by emiting carbon dioxiode and a mixture of other gases including hydrogen and sulphur from magma leaks. Speedy’s digging had set the pocket under Shando off.
The prisoners stood silently as the gas began to spread. The guards stared in amazement.
Within the hour, all of Shando’s residents and nearby villagers within a radius of thirty kilometres had died from gaseous poisoning.
The ultimate prison had created the ultimate death.