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The art of phone smuggling into prisons

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CONCERNED— Manda

Of late, prisoners have been in the limelight for blackmailing unsuspecting Malawians using mobile phones, which are prohibited in Malawi’s penitentiary institutions. One prisoner was even found with two mobile phones in his stomach, something that has perplexed Malawians and prison officials. JARSON MALOWA investigates how mobile gadgets find their way there.

Nalikukuti Chimphamba (not real name) was sent to Mikuyu Prison and served a jail term of eight years for manslaughter in Zomba.

He recalls that, on the day he committed the offence, he was drunk.

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When a friend started beating up his brother, who had speaking difficulties, Chimphamba could not do otherwise but be forced to defend his brother. He ended up picking a glass bottle and, in the melee that ensued, the attacker died.

Chimphamba, who resides at Mpondabwino in Zomba City, says, while serving his jail term, he discovered that a lot of prohibited things were being smuggled into Mikuyu Prison.

The items included mobile phones.

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“I was at Mikuyu Prison from 2008. I am aware that prison warders are the ones behind these deals. For your information, some inmates have money. I was surprised to find that some of the prisoners that were jailed for stealing money found a way to take the money to prison. It becomes easy for such people to convince warders to source phones for them,” he said.

He said some prisoners chalk agreements with warders and advise their relatives to pass phones and money from their relatives to them [prisoners] through prison warders, who are supposed to ensure that prison conditions are met.

“They can smuggle the phones inside using different ways. For example, by inserting them through the anus and, later, excreting them. They put them in a plastic paper which is lined with oil so that they don’t feel great pain during excrement,” he said.

Another ex-prisoner, Utaka Smart (again, not real name), echoed the sentiments.

He said there was no way inmates could smuggle items into cells without the knowledge of prison warders.

“All these deals are done with the knowledge of warders. That is why there are large quantities of Indian hemp (chamba) inside prisons. At Zomba Central Prison, for example, where I was serving my sentence, you find large quantities of Indian hemp,” he said.

He said mobile phones are also present in large quantities in the country’s prisons.

“Sometimes, one comes across up-market phones at Zomba Central Prison. The phone you are carrying on you is too cheap, as compared to some of the phones one finds at Zomba Central Prison,” said Smart while pointing at the handset of this reporter.

He said, when prison top officials conduct search operations, they do not catch the prisoners because, through their network, they get tips from warders about pending inspection exercises.

“This is why the puzzle will not be solved. The warders collect the phones a day before the operation, of course, at a fee, and keep them safe for prisoners. Two or three days after the inspection, the phones are back in the system,” he says.

Smart also recalled that there are tricksters inside Zomba Central Prison, for example, who play money tricks on people outside the prison, stealing money through mobile service platforms.

“They can convince a person to send them money and, after a deal is done, a warder is sent on a mission to collect the money from an Airtel Money or Mpamba agent. These things happen inside the prison,” he said.

Blantyre Prison inmate, Chiwaya Chambeta (not real name), also said mobile phone and chamba smuggling was rampant at the Blantyre-based penitentiary institution.

“Some inmates even sale mobile phones inside the prison. When one wants to buy, they assure you that there is no way prison warders will take the mobile gadget away from you because they are the ones who buy the mobile phones for prisoners in Limbe and Blantyre Central Business District,” he said.

However, when contacted to comment on these matters, Malawi Prisons Service Public Relations Officer Chimwemwe Shaba was quick to point out that the department had already made its position clear on the matter.

Shaba said this was why the department interdicted three officers on the alleged acts.

“We have also spoken to The Daily Times on the same; that we have interdicted a prison warder, Emmanuel Chiganda, who was stationed at Zomba Central Prison, for [allegedly] aiding inmates to transfer phones inside the prison. Two other warders, Josaphat Mphamgwe and Rashid Kamwendo, were also interdicted on [allegations] that they took part in trafficking Indian hemp inside prison,” he said.

Last week, Inspectorate of Malawi Prisons Chairperson Kennan Manda told the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament that 450 phones where confiscated from Zomba Central Prison, a development he described as worrisome.

Ironically, an inmate was in agony at Zomba Central Hospital (ZCH) after the two phones he inserted into his intestines through the anus failed to come out.

ZCH Director, Dr Saulos Nyirenda, confirmed that the phones were excreted hours before the hospital arranged a surgical operation on the inmate.

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