I’ve worked in prisons since I was 18. Death row inmates in Uganda call me ‘a prisoner by choice’.
On the 15th of September 2017, Rahab Nyawira, one of APP’s paralegals was released from Lang’ata Women’s Prison after six years behind bars.
It was a jovial day at Lang’ata Prison as many of the inmates came out to celebrate her day of release with song and dance as one whom all can bear witness of her holistic transformation.
During her time in prison, Rahab took it as an opportunity to not only develop her personal skills but also her education. She joined the APP team and was trained as a paralegal, learned information technology, practised sewing, trained as a pre-school teacher, became a librarian, a pastry chef, and learned how to create event decor. It is for these reasons that Rahab says she does not regret the time spent in prison, as it was time well spent.
The officers at Lang’ata Women’s Prison describe her as initially one of the most difficult clients the prison has ever had. When she first entered, many of her fellow inmates feared her while officers within the prison had been warned against her. However, this all came to a pass when she made a personal decision to change. Madam Olivia Obel, the officer in charge of Lang’ata Women’s Prison said that she was proud to release Rahab as an ambassador; she further stated that Rahab had shown her that everyone deserves a second chance in life - urging other inmates to emulate Rahab who took advantage of all the rehabilitation programs that are offered in their prison.
Her colleagues at the legal aid clinic within Lang’ata Prison said that they will remember Rahab for her expertise in handling cases, particularly robbery with violence. They further hoped that Rahab will continue to assist them in handling similar cases even as she now regains her freedom.
Rahab’s mother, Teresia Waithera shed tears of joy upon receiving her daughter at their home in Ngong, Kenya, where she had gathered several family members and immediate neighbours for a thanksgiving mass and feast to celebrate her return. “I have never stopped praying for my daughter, I thank God for my prayers have finally been answered,” said Teresia. Rahab assured her mother that she would take away all the shame that she had caused her as she is no longer the Rahab they knew six years ago.
We spoke briefly with Rahab a day before her release, and this is what she had to say:
How does it feel to earn your freedom back?
“I am excited; I still can’t believe the day is finally here. I will always celebrate the 15th of September each and every year.”
How has Lang’ata women’s Prison changed your life?
“I will never regret the time spent in Prison, I have transformed in ways that I probably would never have outside Prison. It is for this reason that we call it our correction palace.”
How has APP Impacted your life?
“APP is my pillar, I will forever be grateful for the guidance and support that they have given me. It is through APP that I was able to handle my case and cases of those who I have helped.”
What are your future plans and aspirations?
“If given the chance, I would like to continue working as a paralegal. I also hope that God would enable me to help the children of those whose parents are in Prison because many of their children are left behind suffering. Finally, I would like to complete my secondary school education.”
How do you intend to be a changemaker?
“I want to create legal awareness in the society; people do not know their rights, so their rights are violated. I will offer free legal advice to members of my community.”
What advice would you give to those you are leaving behind?
“It’s only a season, God knows everyone’s release date no matter what your sentence may be. As you help others prepare their appeals you’re also helping yourself. ”
Do you have any fears?
“My only fear is that I may be judged and discriminated upon by members of the society. However, I am confident that I have all the support I need from my family.”
What’s your parting shot?
“It’s never too late to rise up and walk.”
“The greatest wealth is health” – Virgil
On the morning of Thursday 24th of August 2017 an unusual ceremony was due to take place in Luzira Prison Complex, Uganda. Anyone who could walk into Luzira Prison Complex main gate could tell from not only the atmosphere but also the environment and the movements of prison and APP staff who were hectically trying to prepare the venues for the project launch of the first of its kind in the prisons in Uganda; the Okimanyi? Project.
We were delighted to mark the occasion with two key milestones in the life of Luzira Prison complex. We celebrated the launch of the Okimanyi? Project and the ground-breaking event for the construction of a Youth Centre in Luzira prison Barracks. The event started with the ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of a youth centre followed by the launch of the project, officiated by the Commissioner General of Uganda Prisons Service. The project will benefit a population of 12,000 children and young adults residing in Luzira Prison Complex.
“I extend my heartfelt gratitude to Uganda Prisons Service for the open-door policy and for allowing APP to implement various projects in prisons in Uganda and the prison communities they work. Some of us lock up our children in our houses because of lack of friendly services around but with the presence of the youth centre, our children will have a favourable environment to go and build on their various capacities in so many things." Says Ogwapit, a beneficiary from the secondment programme.
The project was officially launched by the Commissioner General of Uganda Prisons Service, Dr Johnson Omuhunde Rwashote Byabashaija. The event was also graced with the presence of other distinguished guests such as the Ambassador of Democratic Republic of Congo, and representatives from the French Embassy and the British High Commission. We also had some of our partners, funders and stakeholders in attendance such as the Independent Development Fund, GIZ, Directors, Commissioners, Officers in Charge and other representatives from Uganda Prisons Service.
Celebrations were marked with a variety of entertainment melodies from the Uganda Prisons Band and heartfelt speeches from the Regional Prisons Commander, Kampala Extra Region; Mr Magomu Wilson, the Assistant Commissioner for Uganda Prisons Health Services; Dr James Kisambu, APP country director; Peter R. Tibigambwa and the Commissioner General of Prisons; Dr Johnson Omuhunde Rwashote Byabashaija.
The youth are vulnerable internationally and this is one of the factors that has led to increased HIV infection rates, early pregnancies and high crime rates.
“I commended APP for coming in at such a crucial time to empower the youth in Luzira Prison Complex to take responsibility for their own health.”
-Dr. James Kisambu, Assistant Commissioner for Uganda Prisons Health Services
At APP, we don’t only look at the prisoners but also the well-being of prison staff and their families. We believe that prisons can be places of positive transformation. APP, through its Health and Life Skills Programmes, hopes to build a healthy generation in Luzira Prison Complex through the Okimanyi? Project.
The event was closed by the Guest of Honour, Dr Johnson Byabashaija who in his remarks officially declared the Okimanyi? project launched in Luzira prison complex. In his speech he said;
“In 2007, I met a very young man, 18-year-old Alexander McLean, brought to me by Mary Kaddu our retired commissioner. He didn’t want to walk me through, what he wanted to do in Uganda prisons but wanted to run me through what he would do, which I didn’t agree to. Being a good opportunist, I took advantage in what he was doing, and now, as of today, we have many fully stocked libraries, laboratories, enhanced capacities of Village Health Teams, and empowered the capacity of Uganda prison service staff, like Ogwapit, that were privileged to visit the UK courtesy of APP- thank you APP. I will continue to take the opportunities being brought forward for the better services in prisons.”
In his speech the commissioner General also highlighted on the percentage of the youth in the country, and the alarming percentage of them that are in prisons.
“As of July 2017, of the 55,500 inmates in Uganda prisons, 75% are youth between 18 years and 34 years. 50% of the people in Uganda are below the age of 15 years. With this, 17% are in real trouble because of lack of jobs and idleness that cause them to commit crimes. By APP coming up with “Okimanyi?” project, they are dealing with the future. I would like to commend them for this and I will continue taking the opportunity. Because we have ignored the youth for so long and we only talk to them during times of politics because we are afraid of them. The youth centre is going to offer learning, recreation and health facilities which are very good possessions. I would like to thank you for inviting me to be associated with this project.”
“The law education programme in prisons is very essential. Someone once called me on phone from abroad asking how he can be part of the University of London law programme sponsored by APP in prisons and I was quick to tell him to either be our staff or an inmate! All inmates who have gone through education while in prisons do not re-offend. There is a 21% re-offending rate currently in Uganda which could be one of the lowest in the world.”
"Partners and stakeholders around, please support APP and its programmes so that they continue benefiting prisoners and the prison community.”
He thanked all the stakeholders and partners for attending the launch and asked them to support APP in all ways possible in various projects that it implements.
As APP is turning 10 this month, we thought it would be a great time to catch up with her!
Education is a basic human right and the foundation on which to build peace and drive sustainable development.Education is covered under goal 4 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: “ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning” and is key to the achievement of the other goals.
On Saturday 26th August 2017, the African Prisons Project (APP) teamed together with the University of London LLB distance learning students and paralegals. Individuals gathered from Naivasha Maximum Prison, Kamiti Maximum Prison and Lang’ata Women’s Prison to take the time to celebrate results of the just completed academic year. The event was graced by members of the TEDx community.
As an On Purpose Associate, assigned to APP on a short-term work placement, I was excited. I had been matched with a purpose-driven organisation, one which was a dynamic mix of brave and humane. Brave enough to tackle injustice from the bottom-up and humane enough to not dismiss anyone as beyond hope, change or second chances.
Last Friday, our student and paralegal Wilson Kinyua, an inmate at Kamiti Maximum Security Prison, Kenya, was invited to deliver a short speech at the Milimani Law Courts - Criminal Section Court Users Committee (CUC). The committee is composed of key players/users of the court including the magistrates, judges, lawyers etc. Inmates at Kamiti petitioned to be included as they too see themselves as key players. They were successful. John Muthuri, our Legal Aid Manager had the opportunity to interview Wilson Kinyua about the day.