“Uncle is here to see you”, my wife informed me as she swung open the bedroom door. “Did you know he was coming?” she asked; I replied “no” with a befuddled look on my face, although, deep down, I knew what the reason for his visit was. Further, I suspected that, though I was the only one unaware but not surprised, this was a planned visit that everyone in my family was aware of. It was a subtle intervention.
My name is George Muiruri, and I am a recovering addict. From 20 years old, I have been fighting oscillating battles with substance abuse; winning some, with sobriety patches of years at a time, and losing some, with relapse periods lasting equally as long. I was on the losing end at the time my uncle came to see me. “Let’s take a drive, George,” he suggested. It started in Athi River, and ended in JOMEC, Nakuru.
I knew a person who had gone there in mid-2018, and this month, he is celebrating a year of sobriety. That, along with the well-kept compound at the administration block in JOMEC B, to the impeccable grounds in JOMEC A, was enough to convince me that this place was good for me.
We proceeded to the reception area, where a gentleman asked a few questioned, as he jotted down my answers on a sheet, which was part of my file. We then met with the administrator, whose first question was whether we had made a payment, to which we responded that we were processing it. I became a bit unsettled, but considering it is also a business, I brushed it off my mind with the presumption that it was just a formality. However, after a search from the security personnel, things took a downward trajectory.
A gentleman carrying one mattress, two blankets, and three blue sheets, joined us, and we commenced our journey to where I would be housed for my one month stay. As we walked down a road fixed between the perimeter wall and the administration block, the aesthetics of the facility seemed to get more deteriorated. “Was the front just a façade?” my mind asked; but, yet again, I restrained myself from treading down that path of overthinking. At the very fore of my sight, I could see a group of gentlemen huddled, with fixed gazes directed at us. As we got closer, the more audible they became.
“Vipi! Karibu JOMEC,” they gave their salutations in unison. I responded with a less enthusiastic, “asante”. Finally, we made it to where I would be sleeping. Needless to say, if facilities are integral to you, then this is, absolutely, NOT, the place for you.
The structures on the B side were old classrooms and dorms. JOMEC had purchased the property from a school, and the structure I was housed in was a dorm. This dorm had 4 dorm rooms, and my room, which was called Kampala, had 12 bunk beds. My room could accommodate 24 adults; fortunately, we were “only” 10, though some rooms were tilting towards full capacity.
Adjacent to our dorm, was another dorm with a similar plan. Quick maths: 2 dorm blocks with 4 rooms each, means 8 rooms. Average bunk beds per room is 10, multiplied by 2, then by 8 rooms, would mean that at full capacity, this part of the facility can accommodate 160 people. Again, “fortunately”, at the duration of my stay there, the number did not surpass 80. JOMEC A, the other part of the institution, had about 70 clients. Thus, in total, we were between 140 -150.
Things only got worse for me when I decided to head back to the administration block to request that I be housed somewhere within their premises with better facilities. I had lost it when I walked in the ablution facility within the dorm block.
On one side of it, there was a line of 7 squat toilets and 1 regular, sit down, toilet. On the opposite end was a row of 8 shower stalls; none of the showers were functional. Of all the 15 compartments, none had a door; only a sheet protected you from potential peekers.
Though, it wasn’t this layout that bothered me so much; it was the smell and sight of those toilets with a heaping pile of mess, which also made me, slightly, throw up in my mouth. There was no water in any of the toilet systems; actually, there was no water in either of those two dorm blocks. As time passed, I realized that people celebrated when the water trucks came in to refill the tank; I would later be a part of those celebrations.
My request to be housed in a unit with better facilities was ignored; and my request to phone someone, so that they could call the administration to request, on my behalf, that I be housed in a unit with better facilities, was also ignored. Thus, I decided I was going to walk out of the facility, considering that I voluntarily came to the institution, to find a phone. When I made the “attempt”, the security personnel, about 5 in total, apprehended me, with one constantly kicking my knees. I didn’t retaliate, and there were about 20 clients who were looking on as all this transpired. That evening, I protested by sleeping on a bench in the reception area.
The following morning, the administrator came in and asked why I wasn’t “accepting”. What I wasn’t accepting was the dismal state of their facilities, not rehabilitation, I responded. Seething in anger, he called his kitchen staff members, none of whom were trained to handle addicts, to apprehend me, and escort me to their clinic, so that they could inject me with a substance, which, hitherto, I don’t know what it was.
He barked the orders, and I told the nurse that I was asthmatic, which was also clearly indicated in my records, and I didn’t want the shot because I didn’t know what it was, nor did I know how it would react in my body, considering my condition. The nurse paused, looked to the administrator who proceeded to tell him, “dunga yeye! (inject him!)”. This administrator, to the best of my knowledge, is not a medical professional. I deduced this after an introduction he once made, in one of our daily assemblies: “my name is Joash, and my background is in information sciences…”
I tactfully retreated, noting that there was nothing that would stop these individuals from injecting me with, or subjecting me to more medication. They treated me no differently from a mental asylum would treat its patients. As the days progressed, things got interesting… A group of counselors, in unison, resigned because, as I understood, for lack of pay. Additionally, on my second day there, a client was rushed to hospital, and shortly succumbed.
Officials from NACADA visited the facility on the tail-end of my first week there, and took a statement from clients regarding the timeline of the client’s last hours; also, the NACADA officials acknowledged that they had been contacted by the same group of counselors who had walked out. From whispers, people believed that negligence from the institution played a big role. On my last week there, a group of security personnel, walked out because of lack of pay. These events all affirmed my belief that the administration and management of the institution needed an overhaul. Nothing much had changed when I left.
JOMEC was once great, as is evident from innumerable testimonials; but, for the past few months, as some noted, it has been on a free-fall, and management, as ironic as it may sound, has refused to accept. They teach us that the first step towards recovery is accepting that we have a problem, and if we do not, then we are in denial, and not ready to change. I am not quite sure why the management is in denial; however, what I am sure of is that if they do not change, JOMEC will be shut down.
I accepted I had a problem; went to JOMEC, and didn’t let the situation there to act as a deterrent on my mission towards sobriety. Actually, the situation and stresses occupied my mind, as I spoke up on behalf of the many there, most of whom feared victimization. I am back on track, with a month of sobriety up on the wall. A toast… of Orange juice, to my wonderful counselor who helped me in the course of my stay there; I salute you.
Lastly, I was charged 162,000/- for my one month stay there; it would have been 168,000/- if I had not protested about a drug test, which was never performed. When we asked for them to explain why it was high, considering I did not take any medication, under the advice of a nurse there, all the manager could say was, “I will speak to muheshimiwa.” We paid, and departed. If you are considering JOMEC as a rehabilitation option, or anywhere else, please make sure that you take a tour of the whole institution.
My parting words to the administration and management at JOMEC: “Pull up!”