*Talks about lesbianism, hardship in female prison
Back in 2003, Annabel (not real name) had a flourishing banking career in one of the new generation banks. Due to her outstanding performance and dedication to duty, she was rewarded by the bank with rapid promotion. With fat pay cheque as a branch manager and family vacation abroad, life was sweet until suddenly, everything came crashing down.
From the comfort of her beautiful home, Annabel found herself in the prison where she spent three years in detention over huge sums of money she had taken from customers’ accounts to assist her immediate boss who was in trouble. In this edition, she narrates to Encounter her grace to grass story, how being in prison saved her life and intriguing lifestyle of the female prisoners.
How it began
I never imagined that I will find myself in prison one day. As the problem I had at work began to unfold, it occurred to me that I might eventually go to prison over the matter. At that point, the thought of prison began to flash on my mind. Ironically, every step I took to avoid going to prison got me into more trouble. I was in prison for three and half years as an awaiting trial inmate. I was given a very stringent bail condition and since I couldn’t meet the terms, I had to remain in prison.
I had an immediate boss who joined our bank from another bank. Before he left us, he had a problem with our bank and was highly indebted to us. So he requested my assistance saying that the police were after him. He particularly pleaded with me to remove some money from my high networth clients’ accounts to cover his own transactions and that within two weeks, he would repay the money. He kept crying and pleading with me that he would lose his job if he didn’t repay his indebtedness to the bank which was as a result of some forex investment transactions which he claimed were hanging.
Without doing my own investigation to ascertain whether what he was saying was true, I just gave him the huge money that he requested. He did all the documentations and being the head then, he had the authority to liquidate the bad investment. I co-signed the liquidation as his assistant. Days turned into weeks, months and years, still there was no sign on his part about repaying the money I took from customers’ accounts. After waiting for a while, I became worried. I later discovered the he was actually a very dubious person as some serious bad loans were also linked to him. He was asked to leave the bank majorly because of those bad loans.
At that point, I became really jittery but he further assured me that once he gets a job, he will repay the money I took from customers’ accounts. Even after he got a new job, he still didn’t show seriousness about giving me the money. One day, he called me to say that he needed a million to sort out a matter which had to do with the problem and he had been locked up in a police station somewhere. I still sent him the money believing he will sort out the matter as he promised.
I became a manager after he was sacked. After a while, customers began to ask for their funds. When the matter was getting out of hand, I began to take money from other customers to pay those that were really troubling me. So it became a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. I was really confused because my former boss refused to pay back the money. On one occasion, he paid about one quarter of the fund and that was all.
I soon realised I was alone in the problem and kept looking for ways to pacify the affected customers but every action I took, got me deeper into trouble until the bubble burst and a customer got the police to arrest me. I also fell victim to another colleague who offered to introduce me to import business from which I could use the profit to settle the problem I had in my bank. She ended up defrauding me and never returned the money I gave her. I was really in total mess during that period.
Detention at SFU
I was detained at the Police Special Fraud Unit, SFU for about a month while investigation was ongoing in the matter. I had a horrible experience while in SFU because they were always extorting me. I practically funded the entire investigation as they will demand money from me whenever they want to go out for investigation. The police was able to recover some money from the second colleague who deceived me but the amount was not enough to settle my debt to the bank. I also gave them about N5 million and the proceeds from some of my properties which I sold. At some point, I was granted administrative bail but the officer kept extorting me. I went through mental and emotional torture because any time they were broke, they will storm my house to demand for money. I was eventually arraigned in court over alleged fraud.
After my initial arraignment, the matter suffered several adjournments until I was granted bail in very strong terms. The condition attached to the bail was like bringing back my grandmother from the grave.
My lawyer eventually requested for variation of the bail conditions after I had spent about three years in prison and the court was magnanimous enough to grant it which led to my release. This was about 11 years ago. At some point, the trial was transferred to another judge and then subsequently to another judge again. Each time we move to one court, the matter would start afresh. I also spent huge amount of money on several lawyers for that long period.
Inside Kirikiri female prison
When I got to the Kirikiri female prison, the place was really horrible but I wasn’t much interested in the state of the place because I was preoccupied with my problem and how to get out of it. As time went on, I began to adjust to the life there after hearing stories of other inmates especially the murder and kidnap cases. I became relaxed because I felt my case was not as bad compared to other female inmates. Adjusting to the regimented lifestyle was also a problem for me because I was not used to it. Immediately they opened the cell, inmates would start running to different places like church or playground like school children.
Engagement in prison
I am a very restless person so I spent my time in prison getting involved in a lot of things. I enrolled for a course in the National Open University and also began to teach some of the inmates preparing for the examination. The activities actually helped me to keep my mind off from my problems.
Lesbianism in prison
I never had any personal encounter about sex amongst inmates in the prison but I heard a lot of stories about it happening. I was told that a lady in my cell was a lesbian but there was no way I could confirm it because she never approached me. The cell was not even conducive for the act but I learnt the lesbians amongst us still find a way to have sex in the tight cell. I saw some inmates who I was told were lesbians but how they found space to have sex inside the tight cell baffled me. Most times the officer in charge would go round the prison warning that any inmate found having sex would be severely punished. The warning always comes as a shock to me because I often wonder how inmates manage to have sex in such congested cell.
I don’t know about others but the problem I faced didn’t give me time to even think about sex. Before my time in the prison, I never imagined that I could stay off sex for long, but when I got in there and with the problems I had, the urge for sex just vanished. It was the least of my worries. I was involved in a lot of activities like teaching, and church work that sex never crossed my mind for the three years I spent in prison. At a time, I even began to wonder if I was still normal as a woman.
I believe that if your mind is occupied, sexual thoughts will not come. Men may not be able to stay for long without sex but women can actually stay for years without having sex. Whenever NGOs hold programmes in the prison and men are part of the team, inmates will be in frenzy to attend the programme so that they can see men. When I see how they rush and blush just to see men, I often marvel. There is this rumour that male officers sleep with female inmates but I can tell you from my experience that it is a lie. Any inmate you see pregnant or with a new baby must have been pregnant before coming into the prison or gave birth there. Whenever there is a male visitor to the prison, a female warder must always be with him throughout the duration of his stay.
Advocates for conjugal right
I think the Nigerian law on the rights of prisoners should be reviewed to allow inmates to have conjugal right. It is necessary because sex, especially for married inmates, is something that they should not be deprived of. A lot of homes and marriages have been destroyed due to lack of sex as a result of one of the partners being incarcerated. It is sad that even during visitation, couples are not allowed to spend long time together to discuss. The situation is changing but the restrictions are still there.
Punishment is part of the prison system and I believe that without punishment, the place would really be a total mess. Phones are not allowed inside the prison but you would still find inmates that have phones and make calls any time they like. I have witnessed when an inmate was caught with a phone and was kept in a single cell. Inside that single cell, there is no space for movement and the inmate would only stand or sit. The inmate was also deprived of food for days, would also urinate and defecate there. I experienced it once and I can tell you that it was hell inside hell.
The food in the prison was very terrible that even a hungry dog will reject it. We eat beans every morning throughout the week. The eba and egusi soup served in the afternoon is without fish or meat. It is only on special occasions like Christmas, New Year, Easter celebration that we eat small pieces of meat.
I didn’t plan to go to the prison but I can tell you that the experience had a significant impact on my life. Sometimes I feel bad knowing where I could have been if the problem that sent me there didn’t occur, but I still remain grateful to God because it could have been worse for me too. Sometimes too, I wish I could just erase my brain so that I don’t remember anything.
Those were my thoughts then but when I came out, I started appreciating all that I went through. I am still trying to properly reintegrate into the society but my experience in prison has helped me to be strong. My story was really about falling from grace to grass and I was always thinking of committing suicide just to end it all. At the onset of my problem before I got into the prison, any time I drove through the 3rd Mainland bridge, I always had the mind to just park my car and jump into the lagoon. On several occasions, I almost did it because I could not imagine how I would be able to get out of the trouble I got myself into. Ironically when I got into the prison and began to hear other inmates’ cases, I realised that my case was not as bad as I had thought. The suicide thought vanished immediately since then.