By Petride Mudoola
KAMPALA - With over ten teams, sports as an engaging form of relaxation had become a thing of the past after the football pitch at Luzira Upper prison was sealed off for renovation.
With no playing surface, football lovers behind bars had to wait a little longer for action to return.
As the football world in the free world gets absorbed into the World Cup in Brazil, in the confines of Luzira Prison, inmates are back to enjoying their own share of the sweet game after their pitch was reopened on Friday.
To many of these prisoners, football is the best form of relaxation, and it works well to distract their attentions from the rigors of confinement.
The pitch serves not only as a sports facility but also as a health project that helps to improve the health of the inmates. But it had to be closed for repair last year after it frequently got waterlogged on rainy days, punching a huge dent into sports activities at the prison.
An aura of revived excitement filled the playground when the facility was reopened. It was a full cheering house of yellow and orange colour as action unfolded on the pitch. A one Ssemambo seemed a crowd’s favorite, as was another Pandy.
The first game played on the renovated ground ended in a stalemate. PHOTO/Petride Mudoola
The match ended goalless, but the football fans will have felt that they scored more than the proceedings on the pitch could offer with the return of the beautiful game in their confined lives.
‘Football saved my life’
The maximum security penitentiary is expected to hold the Commissioner General’s soccer tournament for the prisoners where teams from the various cells will compete against each other.
And there is plenty at stake.
The winning team members will each get a box of soap, rice, sugar and other basic food items.
Besides, the winning team also gets to play against the prison warders for the grand championship.
Dennis Mujuni, a former death row inmate, says the game of football saved his life.
“Football saved my life. A person locked up and doing nothing cannot think. When soccer was there it gave us something to talk up about. That's why it's more than just a game,” he says.
He adds: “While in the condemn section, we played soccer with such passion and it was another way of survival. In a situation that sought to undermine us, it gave us hope. It is amazing to think a game that people take for granted all around the world was the very same game that gave a group of prisoners sanity and in a way glorified us."
One of the inmates says football behind bars saved his life. PHOTO/Petride Mudoola
On his part, Julius Mugaya, who is serving a life sentence, says football behind bars is a way to release tension.
“In football, there is a culture of transcendence. Football makes you transcend the area you find yourself in. People might not know you, but football gives you a sense of belonging. And it’s a good way to release tension – sports activities such as football have improved a prison's quality of life.”
Mugaya says it is an event that people take very seriously.
“Someone at the prison is trying to make a name.”
Wilson Magomu, the officer in charge of Luzira Upper Prison, says there was no budget allocated towards the overhaul but funding was done by Vision of Africa and personal initiative from inmates who have a passion for sports.
Over sh7m was spent towards the renovation of the football pitch.
“Sports performs a very important role in prison. By the nature of sports which is filled with rules and regulations, it’s the most important component that provides information to the deviant,” says the officer in charge.
“It’s not just for entertainment but it helps to rehabilitate prisoners.”
Stories from the World Cup 2014