christmas in jail.

Tuesday 23rd December, Nkrumah Circle, Accra

Today I visit the British High Commision in order to seek advice about my stolen bank card. During the early hours of Monday morning, in the midst of a night of revelry with two other volunteers, I was brutally attacked by three strangers who had been walking through Osu with us.
My first feeling was one of embarrassment; I did everything one shouldn’t do in a foreign country if you want to avoid this very thing. I was drunk, late at night, carrying all my valuables, in a bad area; to say I don’t know what I was thinking would be admitting I was even thinking at all.

I can’t remember what the attack was like, only the aftermath of running after my assailants and then reuniting with the friends who had fled at the first sign of trouble. I alone had been beaten to the ground and kicked in the ribs because I wouldn’t let go of my bag; something else that was later on agreed to be a bad decision. After exchanging contacts with a few witnesses, someone gave us a lift back to Teshie.

Waking up was a mixture of sleep deprivation from sharing a dorm room, a stonking hangover which I am pretty used to at this point (still, it never gets easier), and acute pain from the attack. Receiving the only pity I would see all day, someone dressed my open wounds – lending an odd pair of trousers to replace my cheap fabric ones, now in tatters – and three of us made the trip to Osu Police Headquarters. After being chastised for not reporting it last night, we were sent to a room referred to as the ‘complaints department’ where crimes were reported and, to my shock, detainees were lurking in holding cells immediately behind the desk.

Two smartly-dressed women stood in the female cell, staring through me as I pondered what crime they could have committed. The male cell was at maximum capacity with young men pacing around like caged lions, or sleeping on the concrete floor in nothing but underwear to deal with the extreme heat that comes with such a crowded room that had no window or fan. Occasionally the men would receive visitors; furious girlfriends who would yell at them from the other side of the ‘complaints’ desk, clasping bail money in one hand and a toddler’s arm in the other.


All of this was going on while the ‘complaints’ officer flirted in French with my friend from Togo, completely ignoring the rest of us, as we registered our initial ‘complaint’. Spending some time describing our case, we then had to wait outside for no reason. The eventual decision of a man conflicted between his sexual intrigue in a young girl and his lack of interest in the violent crime she had experienced in his precinct, was that we should go to the next building and await, what I expected to be, an equally frustrating process. I was not wrong.

My friend was called in first so I took the opportunity to catch up on some much needed sleep, surprised at my own patience for the absolute circus that this country calls a criminal justice system. When I woke up, I was ushered in to a chaotic room where two clerks were writing statements for the same woman on desks piled unstably high with paper documents for lack of a single computer. I wrote down my statement myself, describing the value of everything I had lost and what went down in the hour after the incident. The woman in charge then made me read it out so that she could totally ignore me, as well as direct her staff and other victims around the office. She then made me wait outside for an unspecified period of time, for an undisclosed reason and gave no suggestion as to what might happen next.

My position on the couch allowed me visual access to another, slightly more intimate, investigation room where a large older woman was ranting and raving at her electrician for stealing from her. I watched as she told her whole life story via the loose connection that was the tale of a crime; she revealed a plethora of weird and wonderful knick-knacks from her reused shopping bags as illustration of whatever she was harping on about. The three detectives in the room demonstrated considered interest as she carried on in this way, but when it came to the accused’s time to speak, old Mother Goose interrupted with loud animated protests over his version of events. I never really caught on what exactly the argument was, I think some money was missing and the fuse on her fridge had broken.

I went to enquire what would happen now. After refusing my case report to prevent me from making a false insurance claim, Inspector Nonsense said we could go as they didn’t have any more time for us that day; only for her to then appear beside us at the roadside hissing for our attention. She would, in fact, accompany us with one of her equally lazy colleagues to the scene of the crime and talk to witnesses, at our expense.

After a confused retracing of our steps, and an unintelligible phone call with The Rasta, who had actually witnessed the whole thing, we reached the perimeter of Osu Cemetery where the mugging had occurred. Matching our own individual statements, Rasta explained how he had heard some shouting at around 2:00am. But this wasn’t convincing enough for our shrewd justice team:

“What sort of shouting?”

“People can be shouting if they’re singing, or praying.”

“Or laughing.”

“How was the shouting?”

Went their line of inquiry.

I thought of the likelihood of people singing and laughing while being brutally beaten up by a gang. When we brought it to the investigators’ attention that Rasta had identified the criminals as people he knew, and that he was prepared to go with us at any time to areas where he knew they’d be and point them out for us, the policewomen had lost any feigned interest in us and began perusing Rasta’s collection of shoes and bags that were for sale on the roadside.

After this shambolic interrogation was over, we paid for the ladies’ cab back to the station and I was told to return in two days for the insurance information of my apparent elaborate scam to beat this airtight legal system.

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