For 12 years now, Jimmy Mtawa has worked as a prison warden at Kamiti Maximum Prison in Kenya. He has already attained a Bachelor’s degree in Criminology, and has gone on to study Law.
After his first year, Jimmy emerged as the best performing student amongst 45 other students across prisons in Kenya studying law through APP’s sponsorship under the University of London (UoL) distance learning programme.
Jimmy is currently a second year student. We caught up with Jimmy and this is what he had to say.
What time does your day start at?
I report to work at 6:30am upon which I head to my senior sergeant for deployment before coming to my duty office. I then check for any pending tasks that need to be done as I await to go to class at 8:30am.
Did you always want to an officer?
I had never imagined that I would become an officer. As a young child I had always wanted to become a politician. However, due to hardships I ended up often missing school which would later affect my performance. Coming from a poor family background this limited my options.
What has been your most memorable day at work yet?
A few years ago, I went to court with one of my really close friends who also happened to be an officer at Kamiti at the time. We were in the courtroom just chatting away when the magistrate came in and began the proceedings for the day. One of the defendants who had been assigned to my friend was called out and was nowhere to be found. The magistrate then ordered for the arrest of the officer because he did not know where the defendant had disappeared to in court. This resulted to him being locked up for 3 days after which he was suspended for a while. He is now working in another prison. However, the client has never been found.
What is the biggest misconception out there about prison wardens?
People think that officers are illiterate. When we take our clients to hospitals and the courts people tend to assume that they cannot engage in intellectual conversations with them because they are not educated. However, this is a misconception as some of us are graduates. So it is important for senior prison officers to encourage personal development amongst officers in order to burst the myth.
How do you prioritise work and your studies?
When I got the opportunity to study law under the UoL programme I promised myself to work very hard. For me this was an opportunity of a lifetime. Therefore I purposed to make APP proud. I had done my research and I was well aware of the threshold that a UK degree would hold for me. It is for this reason that I wake up at 4am on weekdays to study for two hours. I also study for another three hours between 2pm–5pm. It is my hope that in this academic year I will score even better results. I am also fortunate enough that my boss is aware that I’m a student and provides me with the necessary support. To attain good grades a lot of commitment is required.
What have been your highlights or lowlights? My highlight was definitely being the top student last year.
It was a very humbling experience for having been recognised by the entire APP family. This encouraged me to continue working hard.
How has studying law empowered you?
APP has given us light to serve others using the knowledge that we have acquired. As a law student, my colleagues respect me and I’m often requested to give my views concerning various matters within the prison facility. I am also able to advise inmates who have no understanding of the law in regards to some of their cases. My family members are also very proud of the step that I have taken. They now call me a bookworm (laughs). I also have two young children who look up to me and I would like to encourage them to always aim high. I know that through attaining my LLB, I will be able to better my living standards and that of my family.
What are your future hopes and aspirations?
I would like to join the Kenya School of Law once I finish my LLB to become an advocate of the High Court. I’m equally still hopeful that one day I will become a politician. Most of our prominent politicians in Kenya happen to be lawyers (laughs). I would also like to see this through given the fact that where I come from in Taveta (costal region of Kenya) many young people do not pursue their higher education. For every 10 students completing their high school education, you find that about only two will proceed to the university. I hope to one day change the narrative.
What drives you?
I would like to better my life through education. Before I became an officer I was a businessman selling timber. I travelled to Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and Congo seeking to better my life through business. Unfortunately, after having heavily invested a huge sum of money into the business in Congo I ended up forcefully losing the business. But I am comforted by the fact that education is something no one can take away from you. It is the best investment that anyone can ever make.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to go into crime?
As a prison warden, I live with people who have been caught on the wrong side of the law. In my time at Kamiti, I have seen many jail birds, they go out and come back to prison in no time. This often turns out to be a very bad experience for them. Many of them come back due to lack of being content with what they have. People should learn to be content because life in prison is very hard.