Francis Agyare sits in the audience of a courtroom in Ghana’s Human Rights Court. He’s dressed in a blue plaid shirt, black belt and khaki pants that he rolls twice at the ankle. He’s clean shaven and his shoes are shined but he takes time to buff them as he waits for the clerk to call his name.
He says he needs to focus on his future rather than his life before his arrest. He was 26 then, the owner-operator of a small motorcycle mechanic shop in Jamestown-Accra. He was a family man and the sole means of financial support for his son and wife.
Agyare was never convicted of a crime, nor did he stand trial for any offence. Yet, he served 14 years and four months behind bars in Nsawam Prison before a judicial order freed him in 2008.
Now, nearly 18 years after his first night in a cell, he’s suing fo compensation. His case is in front of the court.
Agyare’s arrest was part of a sweep of Jamestown Beach.
“I went to buy fish, but the people I buy from weren’t around. I was waiting when I heard shots. I didn’t know what to do so I ran," he says.
That morning, police detained Agyare along with 57 others in connection with a single act of vigilantism. At the police station, Agyare was interrogated and put in a holding cell with four other men. “They put us in a box they call 'lock-up'...No food, no water, barely enough air to breath.”
He spent a week in a regional holding cell before police dropped him off at Ghana’s largest prison.
Agyare found refuge on the prison's tower roof because it was the only place with room to move. Agyare would climb a drainage pipe fastened to the wall’s mortar and run a line along the roof to dry his laundry.
The view from the tower gave him an elevated perspective on the yard and a glimpse at the road beyond the prison’s barbed wire, wall and fortified gate. It was there, about seven years into his stay, that he decided to jump. “I remember that day, I was depressed. I looked to my left, nobody. I looked to my right, nobody," he says. “I told my friend I was going to hang clothes. But I wanted to die.”
He suffered a split lip, scrapes and bruises. Agyare says the urge to die was motivated by his desperate surroundings.
His inability to end his life strengthened his faith and forced him to embrace his circumstances.
Agyare recently returned to Nsawam to visit former cellmates. It was his first trip through the prison's gates since his exit June 2008.
“I would complain to every visitor about my case," he said. “I had faith, but (I) never thought I would get out.”
His persistence caught the attention of other prisoners, guards and eventually a lawyer from an NGO called Justice for All (JFA). The lawyer filed a motion for Agyare’s release. The judge ruled in his favour and Agyare was let go.
Agyare re-entered a world that had gone on without him. His wife had remarried and moved away with his son, now a young man. He also bore the stigma of years spent in prison. “It’s a struggle when you get out. I had no place to live, no job, nobody helping me.”
He now lives in the home of Achimota Pastor, and JFA advocate Reverend Isaac Ofori. Ofori gave Agyare a job as a security person at a vocational training centre run by his church.
His court case carries on.
In two prior hearings, the Attorney General and Regional Police Command have been unable to produce a docket with Agyare’s name on it. Agyare’s current lawyer, Francis Xavier says the details of the case warrant substantial compensation.
His argument focuses on Ghana’s constitutional requirement that all people in custody be processed by a judge within 48 hours of arrest.
“They cannot find his file because it doesn’t exist. He never saw the judge. He was locked up and forgotten about. They cannot give him the time back. It is unacceptable to take someone’s life away for no reason then release them with nothing," Xavier says.
There's so much more to Africa than predictable headlines about war, famine and AIDS. From Ghanaian beauty pageants to music in Malawi, Africa Without Maps provides a rare glimpse of life in Africa from Journalists for Human Rights interns on the ground.