•Abandoned by family, friends and church, ex-inmate tells her prison story
By Benjamin Njoku
Although, she has since regained her freedom, after spending one year behind bars, it will, perhaps, take Miss Jennifer Ngozi Mberekpe a long time to overcome the traumatic experience she had while in prison.
In fact, the more she tries to erase the unthinkable picture from her mind, the more she’s haunted by its memory. She can never look towards the unforgetable prison images without a ‘shudder and a sigh.’
From the terrifying practice of ‘warm bath’ by the prison mother, and the unholy practices that become the order of the day in the cell, the prison gate for Miss Mberekpe presents a scary picture of the proverbial “Gate of hell, or better still, a thin line between death and life.”
“The first day I entered the prison, the authorities there were contemplating on which of the cells they would put me. At last, they took me to a particular cell where they handed me over to a cellmate called my mother who gave me a “warm bath” as a way of welcoming me to the cell, and later she took me through the prison routine,” she began.
Miss. Mberekpe was recently freed from the Kirikiri Prison, Apapa. She had been behind bars since last year, following a case of fraud preferred against her. But for divine intervention, she was freed some 12 days after the Founder and General Overseer of Word and Spirit Assembly Church, Satellite Town, Pastor. Chris Ekeh visited the Kirirkiri Prison on the 17th of July, 2015, to celebrate his 40th birthday with the inmates. Her case was struck out by the trial judge.
In a recent encounter with Saturday Vanguard, Miss Mberekpe, who hails from Imo State, told us what it was like to spend a year of her life in the prison, living at the mercy of the inedible food, solitary lifestyle and the scratchy prison uniforms. Describing her release as a “divine intervention’ Mberekpe said, the prison is not a place anyone can wish for his or her enemies.
While the days, Mberekpe spent behind bars were terrible, she believes that the worst of these moments was when she was first transported from the court to the Kirikiri prison.
According to her, “When they took me to the prison, I thought it was the end of the road for me. I left everything in the hands of God. I prepared my mind to accept the worst while in prison. I was not scared, but it is not an experience one would wish his or her enemies. It is only those inmates who have no focus that would want to go back there.”
While I was in prison, she continued, “ I never had any good news. It was one sad story or the other. But what kept me going was the fact that I believed I would overcome my travails someday. I was never discouraged.”
However, one thing that gave Miss Mberekpe sleepless nights throughout her one year behind bars was a situation where her family, friends and church members abandoned her to her fate. She said, “ Even when I called my relations, friends and church members nobody came to my rescue. But despite my predicaments, I still had peace within me and I strongly believed that someday, I would regain my freedom.”
Miss Mberekpe opened a can of warms, revealing that lesbianism, among other ugly acts, thrives in prison. “ I discovered some unholy practices such as lesbianism thriving in prison. But I did not do it because from the moment I was ushered into the place, my cell mates knew I was a Christian and did not indulge in such unholy practice,” she revealed.
She however, acknowledged the efforts made by the prison authorities to curb the bestial act. “ All thanks to the former Deputy Controller of Prisons,DCP, who dealt with the evil. She stood up against it and ensured that lesbianism was drastically reduced in the prison,” she said.
Miss Mberekpe’s journey to the Kirikiri prison, began in 2014, when she was linked with N12.5 million deal, which was invested in her former company by their clients. Then she was working with a Lagos- based assets management company which was into stock, shares and private placements. The company, according to her, collects the funds from individuals, companies or associations and invest them into unknown products.
According to her story, in 2014, a large sum of N12.5 million was invested in a business, but following the crisis in the stock exchange market then, the fund was diverted on the instruction of their client. It so happened that one of the investors, whose share was N1 million was not satisfied with the development, as he decided to take a legal action against her because she was the person that brought him into the business.
“It was a business transaction that took me to the prison. It wasn’t as if I embezzled the funds or it was lost due to bad business. But the client involved used his discretion to divert the funds which was supposed to be used to execute the business,” she recounted.
Miss Mberekpe, said, the turning point in her life as an inmate was the day she encountered Pastor Chris Ekeh, when he visited the Kirikiri prison to celebrate his 40th birthday with the inmates.
According to her, she was moved by the man’s message. “While he was preaching to us, the man of God said, ‘though they may have forsaken you, your family members, friends an even church members, there is one thing that will follow you. It is the goodness and mercy of The Lord.’
She said that his message might have looked ordinary to many but to her it meant a lot and she quickly grabbed the message and tried to live it. “ The man of God visited the prison on the 17th of July, and I regained my freedom on the 29th of July. All along, no lawyer has represented me in court, but the last time I appeared in court, after Pastor Chris’s visit to the prison, a lawyer surfaced in court on my behalf, courtesy of my father’s friend who paid him to seek my release in court.”
Interestingly, Pastor Ekeh had promised to render financial assistance to any inmate that would be released after his visit to the prison. Recently, he fulfilled his promise when he handed over a cheque of N200,000 to Miss Mberekpe to enable her start a new life.