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A message from prison

At yesterday’s gathering of Award participants in Nairobi’s Langata High Security Women’s Prison, the keynote speech was delivered by an exceptional young inmate, who, for the sake of anonymity, I have chosen to call ‘Esther’. She handed me a copy to share with the world, which I feel privileged to do…

Officer in Charge, Secretary General, Mr John May, all protocols observed.

On behalf of my fellow participants in the President’s Award, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you for remembering and recognising this institution once again, and most importantly, we are honoured to host you, Secretary General John May from the UK. You are most welcome.

When I first heard about this programme I was intrigued. Intrigued with the fact that, even though we who are serving behind bars are getting such an opportunity as the youth of this country. And I will tell you for sure that we have benefited from this programme big time. In terms of character building, in terms of raising our self-esteem. In general this programme has instilled hope and we are eagerly looking forward to what the future holds for us.

The more we spend time together as participants, the more we have learnt to appreciate the importance of team work. Having the opportunity to interact with youths both from here and outside prison has enabled us to appreciate the fact that (i) being here is a learning process for us (ii) to acquire a behavioural change to fit back in society when the time comes.

Having said the above, now allow me to delve briefly into the programme and the various activities that we engage in.

Firstly, all of us are at the Gold level.

We have been participating in physical recreation. As you can see we are very healthy and energised. Under physical recreation we engage in aerobics, yoga and sakata which has enabled us to also master the art of punctuality.

Secondly we have acquitted different skills, both as a group and individually. As a group we have been participating in hobbies which include knitting, cross-stitching, handcraft, watering of trees and ensuring that a high standard of hygiene is sustainined in the institution. Individually, some of the participants have acquired skills of hair-dressing, creative writing (which includes writing of short stories, poems and the spoken word.

Thirdly, as youths we have identified our role in serving the community. Actually, we call this prison a community. In this community we have the elderly, the sick and children whom we feel it is our responsibility to take care of them and offer a hand of help where needed.

We intend to carry out an exploration which will specifically include carrying out research on scarcity of water in the Langata area. We plan to find out whether we have water sources around, for example a river or borehole. This will identify ways in which we might help deal with the water problem in this institution.

For our residential project we intend to target a nearby children’s home where we will carry out community service. (Note, the requirement to carry out the residential project with strangers has been waived in the case of this Unit to accommodate the needs of the prison – John) For this purpose we will need dust carts, gloves, gumboots, spades and all the other equipment that will make our project emerge successful.

Our second target concerning the residential project is we intend to pay a visit to St Mary’s High School, since we want to create awareness in the youths there concerning crime. We want to tell them that crime is not good. That there are alternatives to solving disputes, making ends meet etc other than engaging in crime. We intend to pass this information on through posters with our project name ‘crime si poa’. As the saying goes, seeing is believing, our presence in the school will have significant effect on their lives and their view about crime and prisons in general.

Esther then paused, and continued. I have taken advice from the highest possible authorities and they agree that it is appropriate to publish the last part of her speech:

Mr John May, I have one request for you as I finalise my speech. Please be our spokesman. For I know that you will be havinga one to one talk with His Excellency, our President. I am very sure that he knows that you are here in this place today.

I would ask you to highlight the following significant issues:

Firstly, most of the participants of this programme are serving a long sentence. I understand it would be very absurd to request freedom from you, but you could pass our message to His Excellency.

Our first issue concerns the death sentence. Through the moroatetu’s case, the male prisoners from Kamiti successfully challenged the manadatory death sentences in our country. The Parliament was given direction to amend relevant statutes, specifically the penal code on the issue. But up until now, nothing has been done by the parliament concerning the same. I understand that His Excellency, as per the law, has sessions with the Parliament. Therefore it would be easier for him to address this issue in the Parliament.

Our second concern is that of sentences that can only be pardoned by the President. So far he hs brought a lot of developments to our country. However, we feel he has forgotten about us. According to the laws of Kenya, persons sentenced to serve under Presidential Pardon can only be released by the President. For quite a long time now we have not heard a case of anyone released under Presidential Pardon in this fraternity. That’s why I would like you to talk about this issue with His Excellency.

Finally, there is an issue with long sentences. For example, most of the Kenyan courts will sentence offenders to 20 years in jail up to 100 years. The laws of Kenya allow judges to exercise their discretion in such circumstances. For this sole reason, I am left wondering, are prisons really correctional facilities or are they meant to destroy offenders completely.

Please let His Excellency know about these issues.

And I will…

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