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APIA, Samoa (October 10, 1999 – Samoa Observer)---Two of Samoa's most famous men -- former Cabinet Ministers Leafa Vitale and Toi Aukuso -- spent their White Sunday at the infamous Tafaigata Prison, waiting for their murder trial next year. They are most likely to spend their Christmas and New Year holidays there as well.

What is life like in this most detestable of institutions that very few people would want to spend their life in, let alone one night? Samoa Observer reporter Faafetai Matai speaks to three former prisoners to find out.

Tafaigata is one place where prisoners try very, very hard not to get on the wrong side of the prison wardens. Break the rules, disobey them and you end up in Cell No. 9. That's where life can be most miserable. More miserable than it already is in Tafaigata Prison. It's a room measuring about 5 feet x 5 feet. It is so small you cannot even stretch out your legs to sleep. "You have to curl up your legs to sleep," said one former prisoner who knows all about Cell No. 9,

Togia Malofou, 62, who was jailed for life in 1962 for murder, said, "It is very uncomfortable." Cell No. 9 is usually reserved for one person at a time. But even then, he is never alone. "There are two holes the size of a cricket ball on the floor. It is meant for drainage, but centipedes and cockroaches get into the room through these holes. You just have to learn to sleep with them," he said.

Prisoners know all about Cell No. 9 because it is the first thing they learn about when they are sent to Tafaigata, said another former prisoner, Afoa Mataitusi. Prisoners are sent to Cell No. 9 for offences such as stealing, fighting, vandalism, drug taking, trying to escape and not performing their assigned duties.

Both men, who have been freed, said Cell No. 9 is the worst of cells in Tafaigata. The concrete room (even its ceiling is made of concrete) is about seven feet high, with a small barred window near the top. There isn't even a toilet. If you have to do your natural business you do it into an empty, six-pound tin can that used to contain corned beef.

But that's not all. In Cell No. 9, you go without anything. No clothes. No food. No drinks. For seven straight days. Not even a sip of water to quench your thirst. "I ended up drinking my own urine because I was so thirsty," said Togia, who was released on parole in 1985 and is now an active member of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Falelatai. He said he was sent there because "I beat up a prisoner during a cricket game."

After five days, the prisoner is sent to Cell No. 8 for one week, where life is "slightly better." This time, he gets one meal a day in the morning -- a bowl of rice soup (sua araisa).

When the week is over, the prisoner proceeds to spend one month in Cell No. 7. There, three meals a day will be appreciated by any prisoner. The menu for the day? Rice soup (sua araisa) for breakfast, flour soup for lunch (kopai) and five boiled bananas with a small piece of boiled lamb for dinner. After what may seem like an eternity, the prisoner is then sent back to the general Cell area.

Here, there are 10 cells, each measuring 20 steps long and 15 steps wide with one door, 10 high windows close to the ceiling with metal bars, two 3-foot fluorescent lights, a toilet and shower. As many as 30 prisoners are often kept in one cell. Each prisoner brings his own mat, pillow and sheet, and they all sleep on the cement floor. One of these cells houses juvenile prisoners and there's a separate one for females.

Here, prisoners get three meals a day. Breakfast is usually sweetened rice soup, lunch is sweetened flour soup (kopai) and dinner is always boiled bananas and boiled lamb (ribs) and water.

Afoa, who now goes around Apia preaching to the public, said prisoners have to follow a strict regiment. The prison bell rings at 5.30 sharp every morning and everyone must get up to sing hymns and pray. This "church" service is conducted by a fellow prisoner chosen by the cell leader, or the matai, who is in turn chosen by the prisoners themselves. The matai also appoints a cell secretary whose duty is to assign weekly duties to each of the prisoners. These duties include cleaning the cell and cooking.

At 6.00 a.m., all the cell doors are opened, except for Cell No. 9. Then they are allowed to go to the dining area for breakfast. The rest of the day is spent at work in the prison's plantation. Spread out over about 40 acres, the plantation has a number of crops ranging from coconuts to cabbages, tapioca, taro, and other foodstuff, which they either cook for themselves or sell to the public.

Prisoners are brought back to their cells in the afternoon -- to spend the rest of the day under lock and key and the watchful eye of armed guards. "Prison life is certainly no fun," said Togia. "I certainly have no wish to go back there."

Regimen at Tafaigata Prison

5.30 am Wake-up call and "church" service

6.00 am Breakfast

6.30 am Roll call

7.00 am to 11.30 am Prison work begins. Includes weeding, grass-cutting, collecting coconuts, gardening, 11.30 am to 1.00 pm Lunch and rest

1.00 pm: to 3.00 pm Prison work continues

3.00 pm: Back to cells

3.30 pm: Dinner

4.00 pm: Back to cell to spend the rest of the day before lights go out.

Not all prisoners are confined 24 hours a day within the walls of Tafaigata Prison. There are "special cases" where prisoners are allowed to work outside the prison walls. Each morning, a truck ferries them to Apia where they work in various government departments. They make coffee and run errands, mostly in the police and Justice departments.

For additional reports from the Samoa Observer, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Samoa Observer.

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