In Search of Justice
“The one thing I will miss about my time in prison is the equality. After having been in prison for four years, I don’t know what is in store for me. However, I walk out with a different outlook on life. My attitude has changed and I definitely love the new me,” Edith.
Edith was arrested on 26th January 2015. She was held on remand for over 18 months until she was sentenced in July 2016 and has spent the last four years at Lang’ata Women’s Prison in Kenya. Edith will be released on 13th March 2019.
She recalls that when she first came to prison. For the first two weeks, she cried every single night. Her family was traumatized, her children were affected and even their performance at school deteriorated.
She knew nothing about the justice system in Kenya until she encountered African Prisons Project (APP).
“APP helped me tackle my case, I did not know about my rights until APP brought the auxiliary paralegal training programme which I enrolled to and equally received advice during my trial process. As a result, I got a very fair sentence.”
Over time, Edith has learnt much about the law and understands the difficulties faced by those in search of justice. Today, as an APP trained auxiliary paralegal - through our Justice Changemaker Programme - she can confidently stand in front of people and not only give a legal opinion but an opinion on anything.
Gaining Confidence and Trust
Through the auxiliary paralegal training, Edith has acquired new skills that have given her confidence, increased her self-esteem and helped her to discover talents that she did not know she had.
“My greatest joy as a paralegal has been in moments when a client (a fellow prisoner) puts their trust in me and allows me to guide them through their case and it ends up in an acquittal,” says Edith.
Despite the successes, her work has been faced with many challenges. When APP started operating a legal clinic at Lang’ata, many people were reluctant to believe that their fellow prisoners was equipped to offer quality legal advice to another prisoner. Gradually, due to the success stories they have witnessed, more prisoners have put their trust in APP’s legal clinic.
Women in Prison
Edith explains that the majority of the women in Lang’ata Women’s Prison are illiterate and do not understand their court proceedings. Upon arrest, at the police station, many women are under pressure to agree to charges placed against them with claims that they would be set free if they accept. Unfortunately, some women agree.
In Kenya, women make up 7.4% of the total prison population. APP works in Women’s Prisons in both Kenya and Uganda and has trained more than 100 to become paralegals providing advice and support to those around them who otherwise would have no access to justice. Edith is one of the women we’re celebrating for International Women’s Day.
In her work as a paralegal at Lang’ata, Edith has realised that most women do not open up easily about their cases. They tend to hide their problems for fear of being judged harshly shaped by the high standards which a woman is expected to live by.
But Edith insists that society needs to be educated on what prison life looks like. She believes that prison should function like a hospital. So that when people are released from prison, they should be accepted back into the community. And in her opinion, women reform very quickly.
Edith, a widow and a mother of two boys, looks forward to getting back to the lives of her children. “At times, I feel like I have really let my children down. I was their role model,” says Edith.
And yet, despite the challenges, Edith has found hope. With her new skills and confidence, she would like to visit schools and communities where there are many young people.
“I’ve noticed that many youth are coming to prison because they don’t know so much about legal matters or just because they are ignorant.”
With her much-needed legal training of benefit to those without the ability to manage their own issues in court, her advice to those she’s leaving behind in prison is to keep holding on - “Never lose hope”.
Equal Access To Justice
We work in prisons because the number of people incarcerated around the world - especially amongst women - is growing. Rates of re-offending remain high and too many prisons are dangerously overcrowded and under-resourced.
In both Uganda and Kenya, as with many countries across Africa, there are inmates who will never meet a lawyer, unable to afford the most basic access to justice.
Will you provide access to justice for someone like Edith?