Three months ago, Kenneth Onsongo had no idea how liberating it would feel to have privacy in his own home.
The 54-year-old senior sergeant at the Nakuru Prison has worked diligently for his employer and shared accommodation with fellow officers.
But when Mr Onsongo was recently allocated one of the 20 houses that were launched by Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i, he was thrust into a style of living alien to him for the 32 years he has been a Kenya Prisons Service employee.
During a visit by The Standard, an elated Onsongo took us on a tour of his new home. He first rang the doorbell and his son, Emmanuel Mokua, let us in.
Onsongo then made himself comfortable on a couch as he reflected on his time in the service.
“Hii ni maisha ulaya (this is like living abroad). Am I truly the one living such a decent and private life?” he asked, stretching a hand to switch on the TV to watch the news.
He caused laughter when he said he had never had a shower, adding that he was also blessed to have clean water for domestic use.
“I just open the tap and enjoy a hot shower. This is unbelievable! Life has been full of struggle living in a single room.”
The two-bedroom tiled houses have modern amenities and are located in a fenced compound to give the officers additional security and privacy.
Before moving into the new house, Onsogo used to share a temporary structure with his juniors, which often led to disagreements.
The structures were divided into rooms with torn cardboard, plastic, bed sheets and manila paper, which meant there was virtually no privacy to speak of.
This was the environment in which many prison officials raise their families.
“You can never command respect if you live with your juniors because they understand your personal weaknesses. This is what I have experienced over the years,” said Onsongo.
He explained that in those cramped quarters, he could not do as he wished, for example listen to his favourite music or watch television, because he was required to be considerate to his colleagues.
The Standard team also met 45-year-old Joseph Rioba, who until recently was living in a one-room mud house.
“I used to live in a single-room mud-walled house partitioned with a piece of clothing. How could I command respect from my children or junior officers? Life was truly frustrating,” said Mr Rioba.
His children, he said, would often be invited to visit and stay with friends but they could never return the favour because of their deplorable housing. It was also embarrassing to invite relatives and friends over for a visit.
“It is sometimes shameful to invite someone into a leaking house. But I am happy because I am able to operate in a self-contained house."
But even as the two families enjoy their new living quarters, their colleagues continue to live in deplorable conditions.
Moses Leperon, 45, from Baringo said that since he was recruited to the force 23 years ago, he has never enjoyed life in his quarters.
Mr Leperon's mud-walled house, which he shares with fellow officers, is poorly ventilated and floods during rains because of a leaking roof. The crumbling walls are supported by iron sheets, which also improve security.
When it floods, he has to keep shifting his belongings to prevent them from being damaged.
“I want to live a decent life but it is a shame bringing friends to such a house where they can’t enjoy a calm environment because everything happening will be known by the other officers,” Leperon said.
But there is a wind of change. During the official opening of the 20 houses, Dr Matiang’i also presided over a groundbreaking ceremony for 48 units to be built at the facility to house more officers.
He ordered the contractor to complete the houses before the end of the 2018/2019 financial year, noting that stalled projects left officers to live in deplorable conditions.
The officer in charge, Japheth Onchiri, said the improved housing had boosted the esteem and morale of senior officers who previously shared rooms with their juniors.