Life in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is tough, so it’s hard to imagine what it’s like trying to survive in prison. MONUC, the UN peace-keeping mission to the Congo, recently reported that at least 26 prisoners have died this year from severe and acute malnutrition in just one institution, the Mbuji Mayi central prison, in Kasaï Oriental province where much of Heart of Diamonds is set.
The prison houses 425 prisoners in a facility originally designed for 200. Overcrowding and unsanitary conditions exacerbate health problems in prisoners who are fed less than once a day. MONUC has been providing a weekly water and twice-weekly corn ration to the prison on an emergency basis, but says it can’t continue indefinitely. Making matters much, much worse is that public hospitals won’t accept even the most dangerously-ill prisoners because they can’t pay for their medical care.
“Our concern is even greater as we noted that among these deaths, many of them are defendants, who are therefore presumed innocent because they have not been judged due to the slowness of the legal process,” says MONUC Mbuji Mayi Human Rights Officer Assiongbon Tettekpoe.
In a place where even ordinary citizens sometimes scramble to provide the basic necessities of life, the bottom rungs of society stand no chance of survival.