It's now been years though afar and asunder, distant seem those dark hours. But, the memory is deeply etched into every grain of my existence.The loss of liberty is the worst a man succumbs as in death the spirit is free. Money, home, health, material items are sheer trivia in the face of subjugation, despondency and even ignominy.
At the break of dawn on a mid October morning, l turned back to take a final glimpse at what was my home for over a decade and a half in Manhattan's affluent Upper East Side, a product of an adulated career on Wall Street. I eventually took the back seat with the two loves of my life right next to me as Manuel, a venerated Wall Street Banker and my best buddy traversed through New York City heading towards the Pennsylvania's Allegheny Mountains. Sylvia was not only Manuel's co-pilot in life but she sat in front along with Manuel as I said adios to the Big Apple. Alison held my hand as we were both an emotional wreck while our pumpkin, Lea mischievously distracted us. Having grown up as a man in Africa, one is comfortably pedestaled as machismo, perhaps boisterous or even laddish. So ,it was almost bewildering, even to myself, that I was so madly in love with a puppy. Lea, a Yorkshire Terrier was the other love of myself, full of character and valour, that she must be a connection from another life.
Driving towards White Deer township, we stared at the barbed wire, security and walls and to say it was intimidating would certainly be an understatement. Needless to say, parting from loved ones is horrific and heart wrenching. As I took my strides into this new world order where ending up in solitary confinement was a moment of relish for the petulant, hubristic, imperious peasant guards, where pigs are higher up the food chain than men, where there are no rights, where logic is an abstract concept and where one's spirit is destined to be damned. In such a moment, one is either massively petrified or incredibly fortified with what I can only recount as celestial strength. It wasn't long before this confounding strength firmly clutched onto me and eventually helped me get through the years. Whether that was by nature or nurture, I don't know.
While captive, I experienced the worst of humanity and to my incredulity, the absolute best of it. Adapting to prison existence is possibly one of the most challenging adjustments irrespective of one's pedigree. Amidst the deviant gaze of the sociopathic correctional officers, I swiftly learnt that there was both a vibrant and menacing life behind those walls. I was coincidentally, or perhaps by purpose, placed in what was known as the billionaire's den. My cellie (cell mate) was a 70 year old former CEO of a top 100 NYSE listed company and right across our cell were a father and son team, founders of the second largest cable operator at the the time of their indictment with a personal net worth of around 6 billion US dollars. Wouldn't that be a dream for any MBA pursuant absent the environs of prison? Needlessly to say, I learnt, debated, deliberated ample on the world of business, to leadership, politics, religion and the law. I was immensely fortunate to have some great men around me and I am profoundly thankful to them. Whether these men committed the most heinous crimes and in most cases, I assure you, they did not and instead fell victim to an overzealous prosecutorial system. They were some of the finest people I have encountered and sadly some still languish behind those fences. However, they will be my friends for life. We were victims of a brutal, conniving and sinister game played by prosecutors and obviously a part of a governmental propaganda to be tough of white collar crimes.
Due to commonality, I very quickly befriended most white collar convicts but in time I hung out with drug kingpins, bank robbers, the Mafia and without any equivocation, those friendships were immensely insightful.
John R absorbed me the most. At 90 years old I had tremendous empathy for him and utter disgust towards the government for depriving this men, the epitome of American capitalism, the son of Greek immigrants who went on to build one of the largest cable businesses in America just to fall prey to filthy politics that not only cost his life but that of his Harvard educated son and a financial genius. Without hyperbole, John R and myself would have long crossfire sessions but his existence seems, in its evocations of the beauty and terror of life, its radical distrust of power and government, reflexive hatred towards injustice and effervescent humour almost miraculous. His cerebral engagement with the conflicts and traumas of a heedlessly globalized world manifests the virtues of an unflinching emotional as well as political intelligence. His lucid and probing questions granted me sharp insight on a range of matters, from crony capitalism, the insidiousness of the mighty powerful, the moral depredations of the human way of life to the perils of an excessive liberal society. His life and my time with him continues to offer me bracing was of seeing, thinking and feeling.
Incarceration is a life enhancing and character building experience where, and for once, one can ruminate on life, destiny and the fate of humanity. It was often I drifted to the scent of Africa, my home. The reverence and joy of the Kenyans who raised me, educated me, created me to attend one of the most prestigious schools in the world, subsequently graduating from a highly respected University to an accoladed career at one of the most respected investment banks in New York City. It is that very fabric of the African spirit that inspired my rise and gave me the strength and fortitude to bear the fall. While tradition and warmth are implicit, Africa exfoliates humility, clemency and hope.
It is imperative to harness and protect such rarity but it requires a collective effort of the people and its leaders. Corruption , theft and cronyism have had devastating effects on every nation . As global leaders, particularly from the developed world sermonise to Africans on the evils of crony governance, with all due respect, the continent has made explosive progress from the transition of government in Nigeria to civil leadership in Kenya onto progressive growth across most of the continent. These changes are nascent but as education becomes more pervasive, young Africans will demand more of their leaders and will be intolerant towards the blatant misuse of power as presently witnessed in Burundi, Egypt, Uganda etc. These are enlightening times for my home continent but it could not be emphasized more that Africans, as a people, need to demand articulate governance and delineate their future, and that is not the role of government.
There is perhaps no better time than now for Africans to define their own destiny. It is not only a duty but obligatory for Africans to question leadership as despotism and nepotism breed on complacency.
" It matter not how strait the gate
How charged with punishments the scroll
I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul"
- William Ernest Henley
That chilling morning in October, I walked in embittered but, nonetheless, those dark days were ennobling. Just like Africa recovering from the remnants of colonialism, more recently abuse of power, it now seems time for Africans to be ennobled by tragedy and move on.