In 2001, Benjamin Kamugisha entered Luzira Maximum Security Prison in Uganda, aged 16 and was sentenced to death two years later. 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. Despite this, he never lost hope. Through our Leadership Programme, he was given the opportunity to study law, providing him with an understanding of the legal system.
Benjamin won his freedom a year ago.
We recently caught up with him to find out how he's been getting on since his release, what challenges he's faced re-integrating into society and what he'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?
"It was a moment of excitement for me, mixed with lots of joy, anxiety, uncertainty about how life would be, but very courageous and determined to face it the way I would find it, for I strongly believed God had already prepared me for every eventualities and more so, for a brighter future."
What gave you hope within prison, what motivated you each day?
"Good question! A number of things. Firstly, a very strong belief in God. For I knew regardless of my being behind bars, He had good plans for me, plans to prosper me and not to harm me (Jeremiah 29:11).
Secondly, positive thinking: Throughout my whole 15 year duration in prison, I had never, ever, looked at it as a punishment, but as a way of God elevating me to a higher level. That is why I kept grabbing every opportunity that God brought my way such as education which I had missed even when was still a free person.
Thirdly, education: Finding an ongoing education programme in prison which allowed to complete my secondary school education, was for me a ladder to climb and reach greater heights God had prepared for me. APP also started the Legal Education Programme which gave me and other prisoners and prison staff an opportunity to study law by correspondence at diploma and degree level. I was among three inmates and one ex-inmate who made history in 2014 by receiving legal qualification behind bars. We were awarded the Diploma in the Common Law by the University of London.
Religion: Religious people (priests, nuns, pastors and others) fed me with the word of God which nourished my spiritual wellbeing. In prison, the word of God is the spiritual food that feeds the souls.
Physical exercise: In order to remain physically fit, I had to exercise at least thrice a week. This would relieve me of stress and fatigue and remain clearheaded, eager to push on the next day with a clear mind.
In sum therefore, a combination of the above mentioned, gave me hope and motivated me each day in prison."
How did the work of APP impact you whilst you were in prison?
"It confirmed to me that I would eventually become the very important person that God wants me to be.
It made me realise how valuable and significant a person I am. Studying, a law course with APP’s support under the University of London International Programmes equipped me with legal knowledge and skills which I eventually used to advocate for my freedom, that became a reality on 7 April 2016."
How did studying law empower you?
"It equipped with the legal knowledge and skills which I used to advocate for my freedom, has made me feel valued and respected and has created in me a sense of self-esteem."
What have you been up to since you release?
"I am still enrolled as a law student and I am working to ensure that I successfully complete my studies with APP’s. I have been working with African Prisons project (APP) as an Administration Assistant. I have visited prisons in both Uganda and Kenya to encourage, give hope and motivate inmates especially, those on death row sentences. I also participated in the APP’s launching of legal clinic and a library at Langa’ta women’s maximum prison in Kenya in July 2016. I am looking forward to visiting many more prisons even those beyond Africa as a continent. Seeing a world of justice is my dream! It is possible, it can be achieved, and yes it can! I look forward to day when the death penalty is abolished globally."
Have you experienced any challenges reintegrating into society?
"Yes. Challenges are everywhere, but the good thing is that they are meant to harden us. Not everyone is going to welcome you with an open hand. Starting from scratch is another hurdle but I am grateful that I had the support of APP as soon as left prison. APP gave me a place to live and this was key in enabling me settle , until I was able to find a place of my own."
What are you most excited about this coming year?
"To ensure the completion of my law course degree, building networks and planning to build a home."