Fifteen years behind bars — free at last

Benjamin will be celebrating his 31st Birthday in August 2nd 2016. This will not be an ordinary birthday by any means. It will be the first time Benjamin celebrates a birthday as an adult after 15 years of confinement. Until 7th April he had been a state guest at the Luzira Maximum Security Prison in Uganda. He was arrested in 2001 when he was 16 and sentenced to death when he was 18.

In early 2005, Benjamin started the process of appealing for his case but he hit a snag when the Court of Appeal responded that his file could not be traced.

He was discouraged but he never lost hope and continued to believe that despite the loss of his file, he would eventually leave prison. Because deep inside his heart he believed that one day he would be a free man, he did not let a chance of studying while in prison pass him by. He embarked in a journey that saw him graduate with several certifications in the prison.

Benjamin excelled academically and was among the top performers in Prison and he attributes his persistence belief in excellence and ultimate freedom to God. He also talks fondly of Alexander McLean whom he met about one year after he was sentenced to death.  He sees him as a father figure despite the two men being of the same age.

Through Alexander McLean who is the founder of African Prisons Project, Benjamin was enrolled as one of the first law students in Luzira prison. This was necessitated by a partnership between the University of London and African Prisons Project. Benjamin is currently a second year LLB student, who in addition to studying the challenging law course he had an opportunity to pursue a diploma in entrepreneurship and small business management, from within the walls of the prison.

As a lawyer in the making, his motivation for hard work comes from his own personal challenges and having been vulnerable to a system often tainted with injustices, as well as the cases he has witnessed in prison.  His skills as a lawyer were best demonstrated by the fact that he prepared his own mitigating grounds of appeal. Although he met the state counsel who was to represent him at the material day of his mitigation hearing, he was confident of his legal knowledge. He got the opportunity to address the court and clarify some of the facts that the counsel misrepresented. He also addressed the honourable judge and requested for lenience and a second chance.

The 6th April 2016 is a day that will forever be engraved in Benjamin’s mind for it is the day he was granted a second chance. It was jubilation among his friends in the prison and many others outside the prison when the judge pronounced a sentence that set him free. As Benjamin plans to adjust to the outside world, he is optimistic that the sky is the limit. One of his main goals after completing his law course is to help people in prison to know their rights, and also hopes to support people before they even get to prison.