REFRAME HOUSE for the VICTORIA RELIEF FOUNDATION
This is a conceptual visual representation of what it feels like to be a prisoner of war, accompanied by real descriptions shared directly by those currently imprisoned in Cameroon. Anonymity is used for safety purposes.
Southern Cameroonian refugees and asylum seekers represented those currently behind bars in Cameroon, by wearing predominantly Cameroonian animal masks to protect their own identity, and to allude to the fact that many prisoners feel abandoned, forgotten and treated "worse than animals".
Many currently serving sentences, experienced tainted trials, or no trial at all.
"You are like an animal.
Nobody thinks of you, nobody cares if you live or die."
- Prisoner 8
"Being imprisoned has taught me that freedom is invaluable. The first two weeks [...] I was held in a tiny bunker deep underground.
My cellmates were an unapologetic Niger Delta militant and a hardened Boko Haram terrorist. I had no way of knowing what the time of day was and I was restricted to less than a 1m radius of movement. Later, [...]I was taken to a dreaded hold facility. While I wasn't personally tortured, I will forever be hounded by the cries I heard on a nightly basis. For 6 months, I was held incommunicado and my radius of movement restricted to 1.5m. I also never saw any sunlight and was completely deprived of any news or information whatsoever."
- Prisoner 3
"Where there is no freedom there can be no justice. And where there is no justice there can be no peace. So freedom should be a fundamental human right."
- Prisoner 2
"Food is used as a mechanism of torture"
"Prisoners are allowed to control other prisoners based on the prison structure. Some of the food is confiscated by the most influential prisoners. You can find prisoners who go days without eating.
The law says the prison admin have to provide food for each inmate, but about 80% of the inmates don’t have their own share. When you eat it, you fall sick. Sometimes they even bring food which has gone bad. It’s smelly, stinky. The beans have stones, gravel, and weevils - an insect that invades beans and corn. We have a rice and "peanut" soup. In our local methods they’re meant to use peanuts, but since they’re very expensive, they use corn flour instead. When you look at it, it’s so deplorable, it doesn’t suit the mouth or the stomach. You get a runny stomach.
When I was arrested, I think I went 4 days without eating. When I got to prison I couldn’t eat prison food 'cus it was really bad. I was able to get in touch with my family and was provided some money to buy better food from those who cook and sell. That’s what the majority of the prisoners do.
The prison system does not make available the basic necessities needed to live. As such, everyone depends on family and friends. In cases of abandonment by family and friends, which is the case for many inmates, they turn to stealing, running illegal drug businesses and carrying out other ills."
- Prisoner 7
"Internal business'' operations and drugs
"There’s a lot of bribery going on. When our prison warden confiscates our phone, it typically costs 5,000 to 20,000 Central African CFA francs (£6.53/$9.12 - £26.12/$36.47) to give you back the phone. Money is difficult in here, we are forced to use some kind of internal business. Most of us are involved in selling cold water, cooking food, snacks, peanuts... there are others imprisoned for political embezzlement and corruption charges. We wash their clothes, do menial jobs for wealthy prisoners and get paid a menial sum. Most of us are able to raise a few coins. Sometimes when phones are confiscated you call your family to look for money to get back your phone. Living in here without contact with your family is traumatic.
One might receive, on average, within a week, 5,000 to 10,000 Central African CFA francs (£6.53/$9.12 - £13.06/$18.24) working for one of the wealthier prisoners. You basically 'keep the house' in their cell; clean them up, make their beds, cook for them, run their errands if they need to buy something within the prison, deliver a message... Everything within the context of housekeeping.
When it comes to drugs, "the biggest network is controlled by prison wardens who smuggle them in and hand them to the drug dealers who are usually prisoners with long prison terms... They use all sorts of means ranging from inside their shoes, to sewing them in hidden pockets in their uniforms, to having those on guard throw them over into the prison from their guard posts, to using drainage pipes and toilet pipes or embedding them into raw food and other materials destined for prisoners... Some are brought in by visitors who bury them in all sorts of places in their body, or in food meant for their loved ones. The network is sometimes controlled from the outside by ex-convicts and high profile prison wardens. Illegal drugs in here are the fastest way to make fast cash. [...] Inmates die of excess consumption and other effects of these drugs, but the prison administration will never admit to it."
- Prisoner 7
"The most valuable thing in my life is my family"
- Prisoner 1
"At the moment, the only thing I live for, hope and dream of, is the Restoration of the statehood of the Southern Cameroons / Ambazonia. Ambazonia has taken over my life and my dreams. Ambazonia and Ambazonians are all that I care for now."
- Prisoner 5
To learn more about Ambazonia, go to DISPLACEMENT
Serving a life sentence
"I am a scholar with a trained and disciplined mind to support, sustain, cope and live as though I am in my usual habitat, to withstand the abuses of a restricted lifestyle in an enslaved, detained and prison environment. [...]My brain is my most valuable asset. I pray it is sustained and maintained.
I feel so dehumanised. If with my [academic] stature, I am this reduced beyond the purpose of my creation, then one would wonder if the slightest of human consideration would be given to a man with lesser stature.
I embrace God to take control of my situation. [...]It's the physical me that is in prison. My spirit is high and sufficient to undo evil that may want to surpass the physical."
- Prisoner 6