As we close the year 2018, I have been reflecting on the real sense of passage of time. Although it is trite knowledge that a minute is 60 seconds, a day 24 hours, a month either 28, 29, 30 0r 31 days as the case may be, a year 12 months and so forth, I have found myself wondering whether in real sense this means anything….my traditional mindset is one of day and night following each other in successive intervals thus passage of time. Days are probably all the same…day and night following each other…anyway I digress.
In the last 8 weeks or so, I was privileged to be at Thika Law courts for my clinicals. Well, for my friends that clinic means what I have always known from my village mentality: a place where expectant mothers go for check up and once the baby is born take it there for vaccinations, allow me to explain these clinicals. It is a requirement for all students pursuing a Bachelor of Laws at the universities to spend some time at the law courts to acquaint themselves with how courts work. So this is what I was doing for 8 weeks.
As is the norm, people suspected of felonies or misdemeanors are arrested and charged before a court of law to determine if they are guilty of the offences charged for or not. The arresting officer drafts a charge sheet after conducting investigations. The charge sheet and the police file is then availed to the prosecution counsel to establish if it is proper before authorizing for the prosecution. The accused person is then produced in court within reasonable time to take plea. Plea taking is where the charges are read to you and your answer is either; it is true, not true or silence. The judicial officer then gives you a mention date of your case within 14 days and an option of cash bail or bond for you to argue your case while a free man or woman…. I do not wish to bore you with court procedures.
One day our court was slotted to go to Industrial area remand prison (Inda) where suspects either denied bill/bond or unable to raise such bill or bond are kept under lock and key as they await their day in court. Since the law is that one must appear before a judicial officer at least once every 14 days for a mention of their case then this day we had to go to ‘Inda’ for the mention. In simple terms a mention is where the accused person appears before a magistrate/judicial officer to get a date for their next mention or hearing…it also gives them a chance to raise any matters that they may wish the court to know or help them. Most of the accused persons in remand will have a forest of issues that they wish the court to intervene on.
At ‘Inda’ this material day, we accompanied the magistrate there to observe the process. I had only seen the gates but never been there before for any reason whatsoever. So at the gates we find these armed prison guards who ushered us into the compound. Inside the compound there are other high security buildings with prison wardens all over. We are then ushered into the first gate that is always locked from the inside after our orderly knocks the gate in their coded manner…we are now into the inside of another outside. Gate one is locked then gate two is knocked in a coded way and we are ushered into another passage leading to an open ground where inmates are playing various games including volleyball and football…we walk past them into a small room that serves as the court for the day. Once there the magistrate takes her position and we too did the same. The calling of the accused persons then starts…
We had quite a number of files to go through, may be 70 or thereabout, but one young man in his late teenage years or early twenties really stuck in my mind to date. When his time came he entered the room with his hand raised to show he had something to tell the court. The court assistant signaled him to go ahead and say what he had to say. Apparently he wanted his bond reduced to less then Kshs. 500K so that he could continue with the case while outside prison. He really begged the magistrate to have mercy on him and reduce his bond terms. The magistrate decline owing to the offence he was accused of: robbery with violence! However, the learned magistrate looked at the file and asked him why he had been in custody for 4 months for stealing a Kshs. 10,000 phone…could his people not look for the complainant and speak to him and pay him the amount to buy another phone upon which the complainant would withdraw the case?
Shockingly the young man failed to digest the statement from the magistrate and stood there with his cry for a reduced bond! “Please, I beg you to have mercy on me and reduce the bond so that I can do the case from outside…please help me “he continued. The magistrate responded, “I am actually helping you the best way possible but your idea of being helped is so narrow to the extent of failing to seize the golden opportunity I am offering you”. As I sat there watching, I was shocked at how dangerous a fixated mind can be. I am not sure if it is possible that being in custody could have affected his broad thinking but here was young man facing a capital offense for robbing the complainant of a mobile phone worth 10K being given a chance to have the case withdrawn upon talking to the complainant and paying for the phone but all he was imploring the magistrate to do is reduce his bond terms to less than 500K so as to continue with the case out of custody!
Akin to what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said in her now too famous TED talk on the dangers of a single story, I realized the dangers of a fixated mind are even more dangerous!