Fathering from prison: ‘I don’t know my children and they don't know me’

Inmates James Mwang’ongo (left), Philip Onyancha, Aggrey Mbai and Philip Maingi during at Kamiti Maximum Prison, Nairobi. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Aggrey Mbai, a father of six, was sentenced to hang for robbery with violence in 2000.

The sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. But life has not been easy being a father behind bars.

“Being in prison is hard, it’s emotionally painful. I don’t know my children and they do not know me. My two daughters are married and I know it’s not a good thing when their husbands know that I am in prison,” says the 60-year-old.

Mbai is dressed in a navy blue uniform and a badge reading peer counsellor, a role he earned for good behaviour at the Kamiti Maximum Prison in Nairobi.

His family was shocked when he was arrested since they did not know he was a violent man.

Today, his biggest regret is knowing his children lack a father figure.

“Though they visit me, it’s not the same. When they visit, I can see the void in them, they usually tell me that they miss my presence in their lives,” he says.

Bitterness towards life made it hard for Mbai to cope in prison. But after thorough soul searching, he accepted his fate.

“I gave my life to God and that is when I realised that even the officers I was mad at were part of my destiny. God has used me while in here. I studied Theology in 2010, and I have used what I have learnt to inspire others.”

Aggrey Mbai at Kamiti Maximum Prison, Nairobi. September 17, 2021. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Meeting him under a tree within the prison compound, Mbai is holding a book.

The book is titled, Life Equals seasons and Time which he wrote and a CD album, Njereranga (loosely translated “I am coming back”).

His life changed in 2000.

On that particular day, along Riverside Drive, together with other gang members, they had gone to rob a house, but things did not go as planned. 

The alarm went off. Two members escaped. Mbai and an accomplice were arrested. The accomplice later died at the Naivasha Maximum Prison.

Mbai is the only surviving gang member.

“The other two, who escaped, were later gunned down. I am happy I am in jail. I am sure if I continued with that life, I would be dead.”

Another inmate, James Love Mwangongo, who is also a peer counsellor, is dressed in a light blue uniform.

The father of one was charged with murder in 2006 after killing his girlfriend.

He was resentenced to 50 more years in prison in 2021.

“I was hoping to get the Power of Mercy or maybe a reduced sentence but they added 50 more years. That means I will die here,” he regrets.

Mwangongo recalls the series of events that landed him in prison.

He had impregnated his ex-girlfriend and when his then-girlfriend found out, it led to a confrontation, and in the process, he killed her.

“I was drunk after the heated argument. I left her house and went to my place in Ongata Rongai where my pregnant ex-girlfriend was, I told her what I had done.”

Inmates Aggrey Mbai (left), James Mwang'ongo and Philip Maingi at Kamiti Maximum Prison, Nairobi. September 17, 2021. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

The murdered girlfriend was an air hostess. She was scheduled to fly out that evening, before her untimely death.

Mwangongo regrets the crime since he hardly knows his daughter. 

“I saw my daughter the year she was born, she is a teenager now. I only wish I could see her and get to know her, but the mother does not want anything to do with me. I don’t blame her,” he notes.

Mwangongo takes his duty as a peer counsellor and teacher seriously, gaining a lot of respect from the officers and inmates.

If he ever gets freed, apart from reuniting with his daughter, Mwangongo says he would “aspire to join reform institutions and guide the youth positively.”

Philip Mweke was sentenced to life for defiling a nine-year-old in 2012, a charge he still denies.

Mweke says life took a different turn while guarding a prominent politician’s home, where he worked as a GSU officer.

He was accused of luring a neighbour’s daughter to the politician’s house.

The now 42-year-old recalls how it started. “They claimed I told the girl that the house was breathtaking and I would organise for her to come and see it and that is when I defiled her. But that’s a lie,” he says.

The life sentence was a shocker to Mweke, the sole breadwinner of his family. “I have two children, when I was arrested, my wife had no job. My family really struggled without me,” he says, tears welling up in his eyes.

Though his family visits him, Mweke says he’s an absentee father who accepted his fate and took advantage of the courses provided to study law.

“Other inmates call me wakili. I have represented people in court and won some cases. I believe I have a greater purpose in life. I am hopeful that very soon I will be representing my clients in a suit and tie,” he said.