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A beautiful memoir from the high walls of prison

The past four years have been a period of formation; a period of learning and unlearning. I have had an opportunity to live among saint and sinners. It has been a time of reflection on my purpose and my role in changing the society. I have grown so much; in person and professionally. It has been an honor to serve alongside a group of ordinary radicals, courageous change makers, humble servants and accountable stewards.

I have had an opportunity to use my knowledge to help those accused of petty and capital offences and listened to their stories. I have interacted with people who have committed heinous crimes as well as people who are innocently behind bars. I have listened to stories of women whose households depend on them, men who are breadwinners and young people whose dreams and aspiration have been shattered by imprisonment. I have also played with young innocent babies who are in prisons, accompanying their mothers; they do not know what the future holds for them.

I have learnt many values from these people. I have learnt patience from pre-trial inmates who spend an average of two and half years in remand awaiting determination of their cases. I have learnt to be hopeful from the friends who have exhausted all their appeals and serving long sentences but still hope to leave prisons. I have learnt courage from men and women who are challenging unfair and illegal laws like death penalty. I have learnt the value of service from prison officers who go beyond the call of duty to provide inmates with legal and other support. I am inspired to be more selfless by the inmates who are serving death penalty or life imprisonment and do not know their fate but are still supporting their fellow inmates to be freed.

I cannot compare my time at African Prisons Project (APP) with anything. It has been valuable; time well spent. I have seen how the law can be used selectively to cause pain, agony and breakdown of social structures. There is however a beautiful side to it too; I have experienced how the power of law, if placed on the right hands of the poor and passed down to the lowest in the society can be a powerful tool for social, legal and economic revolution.

I now know than ever before what Jesus meant when he said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But I tell you not to resist an evil person. If someone slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also; if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well; and if someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two.” My first defense if and when wronged is to walk away. It is better to be called a coward or stupid than to be in prison. It is also best to manage your anger, to know when to speak and to sieve what to say. I have listened to stories of people who are serving long sentences after acting out of anger, provocation and frustration.

The period spent at APP has allowed me to live the prayer of St. Francis of Asisi. In my small way, where there was hatred I have sow love; where there was injury, pardon; where there was doubt, faith; where there was despair, hope; where there was darkness, light; where there was sadness, joy. I have made friends with those that have been termed enemies and found joy in places of tribulation. I have seen light in places termed as opaque and dark, I have laughed, loved and lived!

 I leave APP with nothing but beautiful memories, huge smile, renewed energy and small but heartfelt presents that prisoners have gifted during my years of services. The memories and values ushers me into a new challenge, a challenge that I believe I am well prepared for. I hope our paths cross in the future; and until then, it has been real, it has been fulfilling!

God Bless you!

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