Fresh out of prison for a crime he claims he did not commit, Charles Shitanda is walking back to the community that almost lynched him five years ago.
While regretting the time lost in jail, Shitanda says his incarceration was a period to reflect and reconnect with God.
The 36-year-old convict was arrested in connection with a robbery committed at Bishiri village in Navakholo, Kakamega County in 2017.
Recounting events that landed him in jail, Shitanda claims he was the victim of mistaken identity after he rode a motorbike into a compound where a felony had been committed earlier.
Though he does not remember the exact date, Shitanda said he was rushing to pick up his sick daughter. The girl was living with her aunt in a different village and he had been called to take her to hospital.
Since it was night-time, Shitanda said he took the wrong route to his sister’s home. “I realised I was getting lost and called my sister to ask for directions,” he said on Saturday at Kamiti Medium Security Prison where he was being cleared to go home.
A boxer with Kisumu Railways Club, Shitanda claims he reached a dead end after driving into one of the homesteads in Bishiri. Unknown to him, the home had been raided earlier the same night and the thieves escaped on motorbikes.
It was while he was retracing his steps that a mob cornered him, accused him of being one of the gang members, and gave him a thorough beating. Shitanda thought that by lying that he was a police officer, the mob would spare him. He was wrong.
“They told me it was time to get revenge since police officers had been harassing them for long,” he said.
Some of the villagers brought a jerrycan of petrol, doused him with the flammable liquid and readied to burn him. But at the last moment, an elderly man who recognised him persuaded the mob to spare his life.
He was handed over to the police, arraigned on the charge of committing a felony in a homestead, and jailed for seven years at Kibos Prison in Kisumu.
“Life was hell for the first one year during which time I struggled to cope,” said Shitanda. Gradually he accepted prison life and adjusted.
As fate would have it, he suffered life-threatening injuries that saw him moved from hospital to hospital in search of treatment until he got to Nairobi where he finally got help after almost giving up.
Shitanda had been assigned to work at a building in Ahero where some of the prisoners were labourers. His job was to haul building stones to the first floor. Unfortunately, he missed a step on a plank and fell down, injuring his back.
A medical examination established that the injuries also affected his private parts, forcing him to use a catheter to aid in urinating. One doctor allegedly recommended the removal of his genitals.
“I vehemently opposed the idea, and the thought that I would no longer be a complete man,” said Shitanda.
He was taken to Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital before being transferred to Kamiti Medium Security Prison in order to seek help from Kenyatta National Hospital.
“But the arrangement never worked because the transfer coincided with the Covid-19 outbreak, which meant I couldn’t go to hospital due to social distancing and movement restrictions,” said Shitanda.
Johnson Mwadime, the deputy in charge of Kamiti Medium Security Prison, put him in touch with a specialist at the Kiambu County Referral Hospital where he finally got help.
“I am really indebted to Mr Mwadime. Were it not for him, I couldn’t have regained my manhood,” said Shitanda while fighting back tears.
When he was informed that he was a free man at around 3.30pm on Saturday, Shitanda could not believe his ears. He was housed in Segregation Block, where he had been made a leader to take care of inmates, when Mr Mwadime came calling his name.
Segregation Block holds convicts with mental health challenges. “I have been looking after them, counselling and even cleaning them,” said Shitanda.
Clutching a bible during the interview, Shitanda said he could not believe he was finally a free man. This after his sentence was reduced to five years and four months after he was granted remission.
“I still don’t believe I am free. I will only believe once I finally step out of the prison compound,” he said, while staring into the horizon as reality started to sink in that he would be reunited with his family.
Shitanda was among 69 inmates at Kamiti Medium Security Prison who were set free through a presidential pardon following the recommendation of Power of Mercy Advisory Committee (Pomac) that shortlisted inmates across the country.
“The prisoners qualified for freedom following a vigorous vetting exercise by various bodies.
“I can confirm that a total of 2,990 are being reintegrated back into the society,” said Commissioner General of Prisons Brig (Rtd) John Warioba.
According to prison authorities, those who benefitted from the clemency had either served for more than six months or had six months to complete their jail terms.
David Kahuho Nduta
David Kahuho Nduta, 31, served about 10 months at Kamiti Maximum Prison where he was a cook.
Convicted for selling chang’aa, the father of three was first held at Kamiti Medium Security Prison before being transferred to the maximum security wing.
His sentence stretched two years after his relatives failed to raise a Sh100,000 fine imposed by the court.
A resident of Riabai in Kirigiti, Kiambu County, Kahuho first worked as a boda boda operator before entering into the illicit alcohol business.
Kahuho claimed he had reformed following his short stint in jail. “I have learnt a lot while inside. Before I was brought here, I used to ignore advice from my relatives and authorities,” he said.
Since none of his relatives was aware he had earned his freedom, an elated Kahuho said he planned to surprise his children by buying them yogurt and cakes from Sh500 he had been given by a visiting relative.
Kahuho rued the bad company he had kept, and vowed to steer clear of friends who broke the law.
He said he was asleep when a warder woke him up and broke the good news that left him stunned.
“At first I did not believe it. But it became apparent I was a free man when I was taken through the clearing process,” he said.
Once he stepped outside the main gate, the former convict beamed with joy as he walked to the bus stop.
“Life is really interesting. I used to pass this gate while ferrying chang’aa and not imagining one day I would be a guest inside,” said Kahuho, leaving the warders manning the gate in stitches.
Kamiti Maximum Prison officer-in-charge Bison Madegwa said Kahuho was the only one released from the facility since others whose names were forwarded to Pomac had either completed their sentences or been transferred to other prisons.
Erick Karani Nyabuto
Erick Karani Nyabuto was serving an eight-year sentence for beating and causing grievous harm to his friend in Nairobi’s Huruma estate.
The 31-one-year-old matatu tout said he had been imprisoned without any skills but had since been trained in tailoring and leather work.
“I am heading straight away to Kisii where I will seek forgiveness from my parents,” said Karani, who was freed after five years.
Karani said his imprisonment had taught him a lesson on the dangers of quarreling and picking fights.