Around midnight, the sky was alight with fireworks as Malawians welcomed the New Year despite the prevailing economic hardship.
Forget that the ending of 2015 brought shorter queues in banks and supermarkets than witnessed in the run-up to Christmas.
Thousands of residents and visitors filled the clubbing hotspots and townships as they awaited the clocks to strike midnight.
Such were the fireballs of anxiety all over the countdown, but it was a dark night, like any other, at Mzuzu Prison where congestion forces inmates to sleep seated.
When the minute hand ticked past the midnight mark, the 587 inmates at the correctional facility had clocked seven hours and 30 minutes in the discomforting posture station officer Prince Wasili termed aptly ‘terrible’.
“The inmates go to sleep at 4.30pm and wake up at 6am. Shortage of space is one of the major problems in our prisons and we are looking for ways to reduce congestion in 2016,” Superintendent Wasili said, asking for donations towards the fencing of a newly constructed 200-seater block almost ready to absorb the population pressure.
The cramming of almost 600 inmates in a confined space designed for just 160 is one of the reasons prisoner Thomas Chitsulo likens living in prison to straying into a graveyard.
“It’s like we are dead, buried and forgotten,” said Chitsulo.
With no means and freedom to spend the New Year as they used to before, they crossed the line into the high, barbed fence, the 19 women and 568 men at Mzuzu Prison look up to well-wishers, especially the religious and social groups, to bring them worthwhile presents for a break from their daily dish—nsima with spice-free boiled beans.
Encounters with the convicts and remandees scratching or caressing their knees is symptomatic of widespread sores and boils they suffer in the limb joints having spent nearly 14 hours in one positions.
Health workers at the prison’s clinic billed the swellings one of the rampant ailments along with malaria, diarrhoea and coughs, including tuberculosis. n