Pascal Kakuru: A Visitor’s Perspective
Hope in the Most Unlikely Places
Four thousand miles from the University of London lives Pascal Kakuru, who obtained his LLB in law from the University in 2017. In 12 years Pascal has been more than a couple of hundred yards from the room in which he lives only once: the room is a prison cell in Upper Prison, the maximum security wing at Luzira, Kampala - Uganda; and his single excursion was in 2013 when he was taken to court to make a plea of mitigation.
Pascal should be released by the end of 2019. In prison, with the help of APP, he took four A levels and got the best marks of any inmates. He then took a diploma in theology. He became fervently Christian. He started to study law in 2012 in order to help his fellow inmates - ‘many had suffered injustice,’ and the majority were illiterate. Upper Prison was built in 1927 for 650 prisoners and now houses 3300. About half are on remand, sometimes for as long as 5 years without trial. Most inmates are in dormitories, with no more than a sheet and a blanket on the ground, a mattress only if provided by the family.
Pascal’s wife and children are still in the throes of immense hardship, and Pascal is still in prison. They face many tests ahead. But Pascal’s law degree, and the help he is able to give to others, are a testimony to what can happen when people as determined, imaginative and resourceful as those at APP come face to face with someone with the intelligence and motivation to excel and to look for redemption in the most difficult circumstances.
To those familiar with British prisons there are some striking contrasts. The relationship between staff and prisoners is good. Most of the time is spent in the open air, not in cells (which are horribly overcrowded). Prison staff mingle with prisoners. ‘We study with them, we eat with them.’ There are few isolation cells – little violence, no gangs, drugs not a big thing. The atmosphere is relatively relaxed. A prisoner, without a guard, escorted us across a courtyard crowded with hundreds of prisoners.
Nearly 1000 prisoners are in education and in vocational occupations such as carpentry and tailoring. But for most of the time most of the prisoners have nothing to do, and there is a sense of desolation among all but the most motivated. Prison is prison.
And yet there is hope in the most unlikely places. In the condemned wing we went to a service taken by Jethro, dressed in a white surplice with blue trimmings. Underneath his surplice were the white tunic and trousers with a few black stripes which is the uniform of the condemned man. There were around 30 other condemned there. The service was high volume, high intensity. The atmosphere was upbeat, optimistic. There was faith, and there was hope, and there was the charity which APP embodies.
Originally drafted by Richard Oldfield, who visited APP’s work in 2017, and wrote this account of his time spent with Pascal Kakuru.