Holding the chains of others, he broke his own free

Pete Ouko released from Kamiti Prison after 18 years behind bars

On the morning of 25 October 2016 Pete Ouko was released from Kamiti Prison in Nairobi where he has spent the past 18 years of his life. Pete’s dedication to his prison community, and his desire to make an impact on the world in spite of where he found himself,  ultimately won him his freedom.

Initially sentenced to death in 2001, Pete refused to be contained by the razor wires, the security towers and high walls of Kamiti prison, instead he was driven by a strong passion to change the circumstances of not only those around him, but those beyond the prison walls. He was APP's first student to gain a Diploma in Law, he initiated an anti-crime advocacy group 'Crime Si Poa' (Crime Is Not Cool) and spoke eloquently of his work and experiences at APP's Kamiti TEDx event. 

23 hour lock-up

Before his death sentence was reduced to a life sentence in 2009, many of Pete’s early days in prison were spent locked up for 23 hours a day in a cramped death row cell, yet he still had the determination to complete his Diploma in Law, later going on to study for his LLB Law Degree. His desire to assist those in need was seen daily in his leadership of our Paralegal Clinic at Kamiti where he supported many in navigating the complex legal system and often turbulent path to justice.  

When I entered prison death row was crazy... but the prison service had a paradigm shift from punishment to correction and rehabilitation
— Pete Ouko

The way to freedom

Pete’s leadership and commitment to make his time in prison a positive encounter is something that broke through the prison walls. Having heard Pete’s story President Kenyatta exercised his Constitutional Power of Mercy and signed for Pete's release. Having spent decades behind bars Pete can now enjoy the freedom that he sought for so many others.

Walking free from prison often means joyful reunions, meeting grandchildren for the first time or enjoying a long dreamed of celebratory meal with family and loved ones. Years behind bars can make the mundane feel miraculous and great joy can be found in the simple things in life. In the words of Benjamin Kamugisha, another death row prisoner and APP law student who won his freedom earlier this year, simply ‘walking down the road, using a mobile phone or eating fresh fruit’ take on new meaning.

Pete’s first stop on leaving prison was the APP office in Nairobi where he was received by staff and congratulated by our London and Kampala offices via telephone. He introduced the staff to his mother and other relatives, excited to have him a free man once more. Pete spoke for a few minutes with the team, but quickly excused himself to go and have a cup of tea – no doubt the best cup of tea he's had in some time.

A man of great leadership, tremendous heart and hard work, many thought that Pete shouldn't have been in prison. As word came out on the eve of his release many people held their breath whilst others cried for the loss of such a courageous leader leaving them behind. We celebrate this extraordinary milestone with Pete and look forward to what freedom will mean for him.

Watch Pete in our video highlighting our University of London Programme at Kamiti Prison.

You can watch Pete's TEDx talk here, taken from our first ever TEDx event at Kamiti Prison in November 2015.