Have you ever found yourself in a situation that warranted your arrest? If so, have you ever been charged in a court of law? Were the charges dropped? Did you escape having a record?

Most people know one or two people who have been arrested and charged in a court of law and thereafter been transferred to a penal institution. When this usually happens, it does not necessarily mean the end of the road to freedom and many opt for appeal, hoping to avert the ordeal they currently find themselves in.

When I was in third year, I went for a mandatory internship to an organization that fights for the rights of persons serving prison sentences. While there, I was posted to a prison within my residence and I would go every day. Our internship was a mandatory pro bono. Pro bono is short for pro bono publico, Latin for ‘for the public good’. This essentially means that while under internship, we would not be paid for the work done, nor were we to expect pay. Before I was posted, I had gone for my interview at the Organization’s national headquarters in Nairobi where I arrived before 8 a.m. This is actually a funny story. (I will insert the link to what happened that day after I am done writing about it.)

After learning what was expected of me, my work entailed helping the prisoners with their cases, helping them become more aware of their rights and offering any sort of assistance in the office. Technically speaking, I learnt a lot more from them about the criminal procedure process than I expected to. The same year, I had taken a unit where I learnt that what we learn in class is not always what is practiced or expected out there; theory does not always necessarily match practice. The practicality of it all was a much needed experience and it did change my view of what ‘guests of the state’ were like. I am not proud of the opinion I held before and therefore I began to think more about these persons and what their lives would be like when they got out. Frankly speaking, I had never thought critically about this until we had a change in the currency and my colleague and immediate supervisor John stated in passing that it would take a while for some to get the new notes.

It hit me hard when he said that some inmates had been serving sentences of up to twenty-five years. I was only 21 and I thought that my hometown changed from being the friendly neighbourly town to a congested one and I hated it. Imagine such change these persons would have to deal with when they were officially released. I thought about this so much that it became apparent that it was bothering me. Getting to fourth year, we had to work on a research paper and I did not think twice about what I wanted to do. My time in the prison had changed my view of who these persons supposedly were and their well-being, oddly, became my concern.

While serving inside the institutions, it dawned on me that people do need a shot at rehabilitation. After all, “the goal of imprisonment the world over remains rehabilitation and reformation of offenders.” Legally speaking, once prisoners serve their time they are free to return back into the society ‘completely rehabilitated’ and resume a life of normalcy. However, do picture that old man, recently released after serving twenty-five years and dropped by the Correctional System back in the community. “the goal of imprisonment the world over remains rehabilitation and reformation of offenders.”

Image Courtsey bigstockphoto.com

Our fifty-eight year old man has no idea of how to start or rather, resume his life and therefore he will do the one thing that seems logical and frankly, expected: he will seek some familiar environment; back to his family because family is family after all and blood thicker than water. The hustle and bustle of the city will get to him in just a day or so because after all what he remembers last about Nairobi is the only public means of transport, Kenya Bus, that is probably out of commission somewhere, covered in twenty years’ worth of rust. He somehow manages to get back home and his family is in disbelief when they see him. His wife got remarried, his parents are long dead and his five year old son is now thirty. They did not believe that he would get out alive and life moved on.

Now, they see him alive and well and instead of welcoming home with the open hearts he was expecting, they are somewhat scared of him, scared that he will hurt them as he did the owner of the shop when he stole a loaf of bread to feed his starving son. The owner of the shop was found with a knife to his chest and the investigation led to a conclusion of murder. The knife, however, pierced the owner from the back, either because he was stabbed or because he fell on it. The owner after all had a knife holder on one of the shelves that could have been knocked over as they fought, which also could have caused the loss in balance and the apparent fall. The old witness came in after hearing the scuffle and saw the accused at the time holding the knife, which he could have, as well, been trying to remove from the shop owner in order to save the man’s life. The old man at the time had no legal representation. His mitigation to the court? “Naomba koti hii inihurumie.” (I am praying that the court/magistrate have mercy on me.) A statement that shows some guilt in the prosecutor’s opinion, but probably, in the old man’s mind, just a plea of justice. He after all, is not acquainted with the language of the court.

The society, well… that is a perspective worth venturing into, just… not today.

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  1. Haha! It could, as well, have been written by him, so many people had the same thoughts, and I am…

  2. Thank you! I am kinda sad that we were unable to keep writing for such a long time. However, we…

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