Times Journo's Prison Weekend

The New York Times' Barry Bearak reports on his four-day stint in a Zimbabwe prison on charges of "committing journalism." It began when 21 policemen and detectives raided the lodge where he'd been staying. "The crowded room was hot. Already, I felt jailed. I needed a breath of air, but when I moved toward the door, Detective Jasper Musademba, a well-built man in a jacket and tie, stopped me. He had been the most threatening of the police. 'If you try to go outside...' he said sternly, stopping in midsentence. He made his hand into a gun and pulled the trigger. 'You'll kill me?' I asked. 'Good,' he remarked wryly. 'Then you've seen that movie.'"

"Sleep was impossible. The bench was hard, the room cold and noisy. Near dawn, one of the bribed night crew, fearing his supervisors, rousted us from the bench and hastily herded us upstairs into an unlighted empty cage. 'You can't be found wearing your socks,' he warned urgently. 'It's not allowed. You can't wear more than one shirt either. Hide these things.'

"The heavy bars then clanged shut; a padlock clicked. We couldn't really observe the surroundings until morning, when the first sliver of sunlight pierced the one narrow window at the ceiling.

"The cell was about 7 feet wide and 15 feet deep. Three bare shelves of rough concrete extended a body's length from both of the longer walls. Only the top slab left enough space for a person to sit upright, albeit with slouched shoulders. There was a circle of concrete in a corner to be used as a toilet. Behind it was a faucet. Stephen tried the knob. It did not work.

"The floor was filthy. The odor of human waste infected the air. More bothersome were the bugs. 'Cockroaches the size of skateboards,' I quipped. This was hyperbole. The insects were mostly tiny and black, others short, white and wormy. We were soon sharing our clothes with them." [NYT]