By MAUREEN ODIWUOR
As we entered Kamiti Maximum Prison compound, the lush vegetation and serene environment, whose trees are well manicured, made us feel at home instantly.
But the uniformed men, in striped clothes, bring attention to where we are: Within prison grounds.
We were on a mission to meet an inmate, Peter Ouko, who is behind the beautification of the institution and doing much more.
Ouko founded Crime Si Poa (Crime is not good) whose members are found within prison walls and outside.
Ouko, 42, was inspired to crime after he was convicted for the murder of his wife whose body was found in their house in Umoja Estate in Nairobi, a crime he denies he committed.
"The trauma almost killed me but I had to contend with being here for the rest of my life," says Ouko. Peter Ouko, who founded Crime Si Poa initiative at Kamiti Prison says growing trees and beautifying the prison grounds gives inmates hope that they can contribute something to society. [Photo: Boniface Okendo/ Standard]
Peter Ouko, who founded Crime Si Poa initiative at Kamiti Prison says growing trees and beautifying the prison grounds gives inmates hope that they can contribute something to society. [Photo: Boniface Okendo/ Standard]
Prior to receiving life imprisonment, he had been in remand for close to nine years and since his hopes of being free dwindled after conviction, Ouko decided to make something out of his life instead of wallowing in misery behind prison bars.
Every time new inmates came to the prison, Ouko got concerned especially by their young age. One of such people, who found him at the prison, was the late Edward Shimoli, who was once described as the most wanted criminal in Kenya. One day, Ouko talked with him about his vision of starting an anti- crime group from within the prisons walls.
"He was interested and I got him involved. He was going to play a major role in helping young people, who view criminals as role models, realise that crime is not a fashion," he says.
Ouko then approached the officer in charge of the prison, Yoshua Maweu, about the idea. Maweu in turn challenged them to prove how they would go about it.
Meanwhile, Ouko¡¯s cell provided no inspiration.
"It was quite disturbing since I was kept in isolation with only the gallows visible from a distance, a permanent reminder that nothing good could come out of me," says Ouko.
However, his dream was persuasive: he wanted to liberate the country from crime. It is an ambitious dream; but a mile¡¯s journey begins with a step.
At one point, he approached Tom Cholmondeley, who was also in custody at the time, with the idea and Cholmondeley assisted the group to create a Crime Si Poa blog. The blog that targets young people succeeded to get volunteers who run the group¡¯s activities and help in spreading the anti-crime messages.
"Reformed prisoners use the blog to advise against wrongdoing to the free while giving reform advice to inmates," adds Ouko. Members of Crime Si Poa initiative take care of their tree seedlings at Kamiti Prison. The intiative¡¯s desire is to encourage people shun crime. [Photo: Boniface Okendo/ Standard]
Members of Crime Si Poa initiative take care of their tree seedlings at Kamiti Prison. The intiative¡¯s desire is to encourage people shun crime. [Photo: Boniface Okendo/ Standard]
The group was registered as a non-profit making organisation under the name ¡®Youth Initiative Alliance¡¯ because, legally, organisations cannot be registered bearing the name ¡®crime¡¯.
The work of Crime Si Poa members is being felt within the prison. They have a vibrant resource centre, which they started in 2010.
And within the prison, there are many projects of the organisation going on.
They also clean up estates alongside residents. Once the exercise is over, the Crime Si Poa volunteers speak about crime and its repercussions.
The National Campaign Against Drug Abuse Authority supports the organisation by giving guidance against substance abuse, which often precedes unlawful actions.
Ouko would like every to actively play a role in stamping out crime, as its repercussions affect all, either directly or in directly.
"Arresting criminals and getting them to prison is not a solution to crime," says Ouko. "To succeed, we must get to the cause of crime and remove it from society. And criminals are the best placed to do this."
He mentions dysfunctional families and lack of employment as the foremost reasons for committing crime.
As the organisation¡¯s activities get acceptance, Ouko says they are now targeting school-going children to discourage them from crime.
Besides advising people on dangers of crime ¨C being killed or spending the rest of their lives looking at gallows every day ¨C the group is also involved in activities such as art that earn them money. "The art is marvellous and sells like hot cakes," declares Werto Lotelol, officer in-charge at Kamiti Academy.
The inmates even have a bank account at the Documentation office to save their income and when prisoners are released, they get their money to help them start life in the outside world.
Deputy in charge of the prison, David Ndumu, said the work the inmates have been doing under the initiative is superb. He believes anyone can change once they are given a chance to exploit their potential.