Hope - A Driving Force for Change
A member of the Power of Mercy Committee in Kenya recently met with Alexander McLean - APP’s founder. The Committee makes recommendations on pardons and commutations of life and death sentences to Kenya’s President. They have spent a lot of time with the men and women who APP has trained, especially our students who are studying for a law degree [LLB] with the University of London. When visiting our students at Kamiti Prison recently, it was described as the ‘Kamiti Prison Law School’.
He said, “Your students are transformed people. They talk differently, they hold themselves differently, they present themselves differently. When making recommendations for mercy, we place a very high value on being part of APP. How do you do it?”
George is one of those students.
George - A Pioneer
An accountant by profession, George has spent almost 20 years behind bars. Arrested in 2002, he was sentenced to death in 2006. This was commuted to a life sentence in 2009.
George has seen Kamiti Prison change from somewhere with no educational facilities, where inmates were studying in the cell blocks at night, to where it is now, with 300 inmates attending school every day. And George is undoubtedly one of the pioneers.
When the Courts were deciding his case, George managed to find funds for representation, but he came to realise that his fate in the justice system would more likely depend on who he knew and what he had to offer. Despite arguing that with decent counsel the outcome could have been very different, George states sadly that he is far better off than many in Kamiti. He talks candidly of the number of extreme injustices he has seen there.
One of the stories George tells, from a number of years ago, is that of a 14 year old boy brought to Kamiti (an adult, maximum security prison). The young boy was an orphan, convicted to serve life for robbery with violence. He spoke no English, yet his trial was entirely in English with no translator. He had no representation during his trial, and when he arrived in prison he had no understanding of what he had been sentenced to or why. George and a couple of other inmates appealed to the staff in Kamiti and eventually, through the appeal process, had the child’s conviction overturned. Whilst the story has a positive ending for him, the child should never have seen the walls of a maximum security adult prison. His life would never be the same again.
From Injustice to Education
Together with Peter Ouko, George and others started an ad-hoc paralegal centre. He and some of the other inmates interviewed half the then population of 4000 inmates. Of the 2000 they interviewed, as many as three quarters believed that they had not committed the offence that they were convicted for. They found that most inmates had no understanding of their rights, the details of their charge, or what that means for their case and potential sentence, or the appeal process. Many were illiterate and had no idea how to write an appeal, even if someone was able to explain the process.
Hope for the Future
That being said, it is clear that George has hope for the future. Whilst slow, he highlights relevant political change and progress happening in Kenya. “At my age, studying law was a challenge to push harder. I have realised that learning is a continuous process, it is never too late to learn.”
He was one of the pioneers of education in Kamiti Prison, which began at night in the cells, and is now an official school where inmates can sit exams. However, only 300 of the 1,900 inmates are able to access education, and he would love to see these numbers increase.
George joined the Justice Changemaker Programme as a law student with the University of London in 2014. Through the knowledge he’s gained he has been able to draft petitions and submissions, and give professional legal advice to my clients. He has handled many cases ranging from all the various categories like murder, robbery with violence, sexual offences and many others.
George also loves to read, and is writing a book on life in prison. He is an incredibly positive individual, despite the challenging circumstances of his life. He speaks of the importance of being forever hopeful, as a driving force to change.
Our Justice Changemakers
In 2018, 10 of our students graduated with a law degree [LLB] via the University of London. We are proud and delighted to share their stories and imagine how they can begin to make, shape and implement the law.
What could you do to support others, like George, changing a justice system from the inside out.