The police are really cruel with us – Marvin’s story

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I’m Marvin Mugume, 25 years old and from a family of 6 siblings, 5 boys and a girl. I didn’t finish university, I dropped out in my second year after studying civil engineering. I’m a civil engineer to be. 

The way I learned to use drugs was basically out of my curiosity. I grew up in a family that was really against drugs, they preached about that a lot. My brothers were users so I grew up knowing it was something bad to do, it was something you shouldn’t try, but still out of curiosity when I got exposed to the internet and movies and everything, I ended up trying it out and unfortunately, I liked it or I liked how it made me feel.

From then on, things went south. I started with marijuana, used it for a couple of years then moved on to crack cocaine and heroin in 2013. I started using weed at 14, and heroin and crack at 17. That’s how my drug journey has been, until recently in 2020 I decided to quit because that is when the methadone-assisted treatment programme began to be available, which is managed by the Ugandan Harm Reduction Network (UHRN). 

The rehab experience I had was not nice because we never got the medication that we really needed. They always tried to keep us drowsy and docile, making us use different types of drugs to keep us down. My experience in rehab is really not good as I kept going in and out of institutions, not willingly, but by force. My parents would try to coerce me into it by suggesting a reward at the end of the program. They would usually use force or trick me into meeting them for money, and then I would be captured and taken to rehab. Most of the time I would go into rehab and then relapse instantly because i never did it from my heart. I never went in when I wanted to. That was how I kept messing up until methadone came into the picture. Now I’m really trying to pick up and do something with my life, since it is really helping. My symptoms are treated, and withdrawal problems are solved with the methadone. There was many a time I would relapse because of the withdrawal pains and feelings, it’s really hectic and painful. My plan is to quit or reduce the amount of drugs I use. As of now I don’t use any more crack or heroin, but I still have some struggles like with cigarettes and hope to quit and reduce my use of them too. 

I had wanted to try marijuana first because I wanted to know what it was like and what was this drug that my parents were so against, that they were talking so ill of. For heroin and crack, I started using because basically I wanted to learn something new, and experience a new drug. I’ve seen cocaine and heroin in movies and these series about people moving drugs, and wondered what it is like. I wasn’t influenced by my peers, my curiosity killed me. I used cocaine in the form of crack cocaine first and then the cocaine came later, when I was being adventurous. The first time I used heroin I smoked it, then I started shooting way later. I prefer shooting as its more potent. 

At one point, I was taken to prison by my dad on the basis that it would make me quit. He had it in his head that because he had taken me to many rehab centres and I failed to quit, prison would be a viable option or solution. I was arrested because I was found in one of the hotspots. He had paid people and showed my picture to different law enforcement officers so they would keep looking for me. When they caught me they took me to a cell, and called my dad. He came, and the next day I was taken to court without any sort of representation, charged with a theft case that I didn’t know anything about, and sentenced to 4 months in jail. Luckily he had a change of heart and came and bailed me out himself. 

The police never usually charge us for possession because there is no evidence. Most of the times the evidence is based on your location at a particular time, e.g. if it is considered a hotspot for using drugs. Most of the time we are accused by association, charged and accused for a crime of association. That’s how we fall victim to these things. They bring up a charge that you don’t know anything about and that’s how you end up serving time for a crime that you don’t know anything about.

The police are really cruel with us, we are treated as people who don’t have any sort of value. We are not seen as human. If you are considered to be an addict then you aren’t considered by the public to be a useful person. The way they arrest you is really inhumane, they drag you, beat you up, and kick you. If a police is coming to arrest someone, they should talk to me and tell me I have done this or that, then I would understand and maybe we could walk to the station peacefully. But there is no option for that, the police will instantly hit you, kick you and then drag you to the station. We are treated like stone, like we are not people. We are treated as if we are already guilty, without even being found guilty of any single crime, you are criminalized instantly. 

There should be sensitization efforts for the police force. They should be educated enough to know that we are human. We think like them, we are like them, and we are not all about committing crimes. Some of us users have abilities to go and work and get paid for our services, and that is the money we end up using to purchase our drugs. 

There should be discussion about making drug use legal to some extent. If licenses are brought in for us, people will know that a person is a user and is using for a particular reason. It’s not that the person is a criminal. Drugs should not be criminalized the way they are in Uganda. I know that we are a very long way away from such a discussion, but it would really make such a difference. 


Photo: Marvin

Marvin’s story was compiled with support from YouthRISE. This story has been translated from Spanish and edited for clarity.