Susan Kigula entered Luzira Women’s Prison 16 years ago at the age of 21. Through our Leadership Programme, Susan was given the opportunity to study law, providing her with an understanding of the legal system and equipping her with the tools to fight her case in court.
Susan won her freedom a year ago.
We recently caught up with her to find out how she's been getting on since her release, what challenges she's faced re-integrating into society and what she's looking forward to in the year ahead. Read the interview below.
It's a year since you were released from prison, can you recall what it felt like to step outside the prison gates for the first time?
"The first time I set foot outside the prison gates as a free woman, it was like I was walking on the moon! I could not believe what was happening to me. What I felt was a mixture of feelings…..anxiety and excitement!! But excitement ruled it all. I thank God for giving me the opportunity of seeing the outside world again."
What gave you hope within prison, what motivated you each day?
"It is very difficult to keep on hoping when you are sentenced to suffer death! The most important thing that gave me hope in prison is my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe in God Almighty. Through reading, sharing and praying in the word of God, my hope got revived.
Secondly, I believed in myself more than what others or the World believed me to be! I knew the truth lay with me and my God. I always hoped in God’s ability to give me his Justice than what the World delivered to me.
Not forgetting that I had left my one year old daughter behind with no parents. I had to rise up beyond my pain, drawing from my little inner strength remaining to live and hope for her, if I had to see her again.
With 417 other death row inmates, I led a death penalty petition in the Ugandan constitutional court challenging the death penalty and Mandatory death sentences. This case took several years to be decided in the Supreme court, but it gave me hope that one day we we shall see the light again. When Mandatory death sentences were abolished, I realised my hope had not failed me.
Last but not least, the fact that I could wake up each day with the gift of life, it motivated me to transform my life for better and help in the rehabilitation of other fellow inmates. Seeing the lives of these inmates gradually changing for the better, increased my energy to do more, in anticipation of one day having and living in a harmonious and transformed society."
How did the work of APP impact you whilst you were in prison?
"I was a leader in prison. I worked with Alexander McLean (Director General) of African Prisons Project (APP), when he came to set up a library in prison, refurbished the death row section and the clinic at Luzira Women's Prison. I made use of the books in the library which encouraged me to start a school in prison for inmates. The improved living conditions on death row and more access to the clinic facilities ensured my stable good health which helped me to actively participate in various rehabilitation programs.
I am lucky and happy to announce that I am the first female inmate to study and graduate with a Diploma in Common Law followed by a Law Degree (LLB) from the University Of London (UoL), sponsored by APP. Studying law helped to improve my relationship with the Prison Administration and entire Prison staff. They usually came to seek for my advice on different issues.
Law gave me a platform to assist my fellow inmates with their legal problems which enhanced my relationship with them as well. Not forgetting the pride, status and prestige that I acquired from studying Law; my family were so proud of me, for not giving up on life and making the best out of the difficult circumstances I was going through."
How did studying law empower you?
"Studying Law empowered me in various ways; I started a Legal Clinic in prison where I used to help my fellow inmates with their bail applications, writing for them their memorandums of appeal, teaching them how to mitigate their cases, and self representation in courts as many could not afford paid Lawyers. After my release, I was able to actively participate in the Commercial Litigation Training conducted by Lawyers without Borders in Nairobi Kenya.
I have earned respect among the Legal fraternity universally. In Italy, lawyers from the Italian Law Society invited me as a guest speaker to an Italian Law University to speak to the law students on matters concerning the death penalty and other related Legal empowerment."
What have you been up to since your release?
"I am working with APP. I have been engaged in community work, empowering, motivating and inspiring women groups, the youth, churches and prisoners in different countries. I have been invited to attended international conferences on different topics:
In June last year, I was invited by ECPM, based in France as a guest speaker at the 6th World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Oslo, Norway.
In July, I was in Sweden speaking in various meetings about the plight of children of prisoners.
In August, I was sponsored by APP to attend a commercial litigation training of lawyers without borders.
In October, I was in France to Celebrate the World Death Penalty Day and commemorate at France’s 35th Anniversary since it abolished the death sentence. I was invited by ECPM and France's’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs. During this trip to France, I visited and spoke to University and High School students from different Institutions, motivating and inspiring them on how to make better choices in life, not giving up their dreams and becoming good leaders in society.
APP in conjunction with the International Bar Association nominated me to attend the International Conference on Human and Peoples Rights in Gambia.
APP further took me along with our Director General, Alexander McLean to attend the International Corrections and Prisons Association Conference in Bucharest, Romania. I shared my experience in prison and how APP helped to positively transform my life whilst imprisoned.
In November to early December, the Community of Sant’Egidio in Italy invited me to attend the Cities for Life (No Justice without Life) celebrations against the death penalty, that took place in Rome and other Italian Cities. I was able to visit several Universities and spoke to the young people about the death penalty, as well as leadership and making right choices in life."
Have you experienced any challenges reintegrating into society?
"YES. I have experienced several challenges reintegrating into society. Firstly, the challenge of providing for my daughter with a place she calls “home” even though I was jobless at first! As well as this, adapting to the outside world with its complexities of advanced technology was not easy at all.
I have also experienced rejection, wrong judgement and prejudices from some people and organisations as an ex-prisoner. Some feel that because you have been in prison, you don’t deserve to be treated like the rest or you don’t measure up to their standards!"
What are you most excited about this coming year?
"This year, I am excited about my LLB graduation ceremony and will later party with my family and friends in my country. I am excited about supporting the realisation of APP’s Strategic Plan (2017-2020). I also hope to explore new heights, meet interesting people and continue to fight for the rights of the marginalised, as well as campaign more for the abolition of the death penalty all over the world."