Celebrating Change From Inside The Prison Walls
I’ve worked in prisons since I was 18. Death row inmates in Uganda call me ‘a prisoner by choice’.
I’ve washed suspects whose skulls were smashed by the police; worked in prisons where most of the prisoners haven’t yet seen a trial; held babies growing up in prison because their mothers are debtors; and seen women in chains awaiting execution for crimes committed by their husbands. Many of these people had never met a lawyer. It is always the poorest and most vulnerable who are at the greatest risk of injustice.
In response to this, the African Prison Project has been building a community of changemakers, not just to improve prison conditions, but to empty them. And to do this, we are committed to establishing the world’s first prison-based legal college and law firm.
Last year APP celebrated its 10th anniversary, and it seems only fitting that we should begin this year with our first Graduation Service. We’re honouring three APP students who have passed their University of London (UoL) Undergraduate Law Degrees (LLB), in partnership with the Uganda Prison Service. Our day of celebration takes place at Luzira Maximum Security Prison, in Kampala.
You see most of our students are the prisoners themselves, changemakers like Pascal Kakuru, Moses Ekwam and Susan Kigula. By the end of 2018 we will have more than
100 people in prison in Uganda and Kenya studying for UoL Law Degrees by correspondence, and over 100 more trained as auxiliary paralegals.
Pascal will continue to serve his sentence in Luzira Upper Prison and is due for release in 2019. However his commitment and hard-work identified him as an ideal candidate for the UoL’s International Programme. He became APP’s first student to receive a Law Degree in September 2017. We supported him throughout his studies and now he supports others as a Graduate Assistant as well as becoming Editor of the prison law journal.
Too often society expects prisoners to become inward looking, forgetting that they too have rich gifts, talents and potential which could benefit the whole community. Our conviction is that every person can change and that change can be beneficial to us all. So our hope is that those we train will become the ones making and implementing the law.
We model an approach based on human rights and rehabilitation, working from the inside out, with prisoners, prison staff and their communities. Our mission is to bring justice, dignity and hope to the men, women and children living and working in prisons across Africa by placing the power of the law in the hands of the poor. Our first graduate, Moses, was once a prisoner too. Now he is a lawyer in the Ugandan army.
In further celebration of the work that goes on within and beyond the walls of prisons across the world, we are also proud to present TEDxLuziraPrison | Unlocking Justice.
We hosted our first TedX event from inside Kamiti Maximum Security Prison, Nairobi, in 2015, where Peter Ouko - then a prisoner himself - shared his story. Last August, having been released in October 2016, Pete was invited to speak at the Ted Global event in Tanzania, where he received a standing ovation for his inspiring story of change.
Our speakers this week are a variety of justice advocates, and include another graduate, Susan Kigula, who entered Luzira Women’s Prison in 2000, at the age of 21. Susan was the first female inmate to study and graduate with a Diploma in Common Law, followed by a Law Degree. In 2009 she led a death penalty petition in the Ugandan Constitutional Court, with 417 other death row inmates. As a result, mandatory death sentences were abolished. Susan was released in 2016 and now works with APP as an Ambassador. She represents us worldwide and recently met with the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon.
Whilst many prison systems across the world are in crisis, we exist to transform imprisonment and to empower people in prison to drive positive change. We have seen our community of changemakers do what others claim cannot be done.
This Franciscan blessing has inspired our work, and could be our manifesto:
“ … may God bless us
With enough foolishness
To believe that we can
Make a difference in the world,
So that we can do
What others claim cannot be done
To bring justice and kindness
To all our children and the poor.”