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Prison in song as graduation gown covers uniform

By | November 3rd 2009

By Antony Gitonga

Dressed in black, flowing gowns over their striped prison uniform, the inmates lined up, hands behind their backs and radiant smiles on their faces.

Few days in a maximum security prison offer a glimpse of freedom, but this was going to be such a day at Naivasha GK Prison.

Prisoners who graduated in Naivasha GK Prison are elated after the ceremony.

Despite some having to wear torn and un-matching sandals, the 42 inmates on their way to receiving diplomas in theology and certificates in guidance and counselling exuded confidence.

Outside the prison, relatives eagerly waited patiently to see their ‘long lost’ relatives being garlanded behind bars.

The merriment of the happy ceremony aside, the graduands were first screened by hawk-eyed prison warders who barked orders asking them to follow directives to the letter.

The warders then turned on the relatives at the gate and directed them to observe rules. "You either keep your mobile phones in your vehicles or switch them off and leave them by the gate," barked one officer.

Among the relatives was 75-year-old Lucy Njambi who had last seen her son six years ago after he was arrested and jailed for 15 years for trafficking in bhang.

An open hall in the prison that was the graduation venue was neatly arranged for the ceremony where 21 members of prison staff were also graduating in theology.

The other 1,700 inmates in the prison could only admire their colleagues from a distance.

Inside the hall, relatives mixed freely with the inmates and hugged them before the ceremony commenced officially.

Gospel songs were belted out by both the graduands and later, one after the other, their names were called out and they stood in a line to receive their honours. They were elated as each stepped forward to be handed their certificate amid claps, hugs and camera flashes.

Oldest inmate

Among them was 84-year-old Timothy Kamau serving forty years for defilement.

Timothy Kamau, 84, the oldest among the graduands. [PHOTOS: ANTONY GITONGA/STANDARD]

With all his teeth missing, he drew laughter among the guests as he grinned and bared his gums when he was told he was the oldest inmate to receive such a diploma.

"This programme has changed our lives and we are ready to serve the lord in and outside prison," he said.

Kamau who sat for his KCPE two years ago and managed to get 139 marks prayed that one day he would be set free to go out to preach to the outside world.

There were no relatives to share the day with the old man who hails from Subukia but this did not deter him from expressing his happiness.

His sentiments were echoed by Alex Mwea Kang’ota who is serving a life sentence for robbery with violence.

"We thank the President for commuting our death sentence to life, today marks a big day in our spiritual life," said Mwea who has been in prison for five years.

He told how prison life had changed him adding he was happy to get the chance to learn and would add more courses to the religious qualifications.

Next to the inmate was his 18-year-old niece Agnes Mwikali who told of the joy of seeing her uncle after five years.

"We thank God for he has kept my uncle well and congratulate him for getting a diploma that he did not get when he was a free man,"

Outside the halls, other inmates hugged their wives, parents and siblings in emotional reunions, which saw tears shed, backs patted and prayers said.

According to the officer in charge of the prison Patrick Mwenda the open door policy had changed the life of many prisoners.

"Some of the inmates killed and used violence to rob but they have admitted their sins, changed and accepted the Lord Jesus Christ and are ready to preach to the world," he said.

Mwenda said the programme, which started last year, was sponsored by US-based Christian Leadership Institute of Minnesota and Beyond (CLIMB).

"The Diploma course takes one year while the certificate course lasts six months. More inmates are lining up for the next classes," Mwenda said.

Serving life

"Majority of the inmates in this prison are serving life sentences for robbery with violence and we have noticed big behavioural change since the programme started," Mwenda said.

He challenged parents and relatives of inmates in attendance to welcome them back once they were released saying they were reformed.

Mwenda received an honorary diploma in theology and a certificate in guidance and counseling for his extemporarily effort to improve the quality of life in the penal institution.

CLIMB director Bishop Cosma Salamba said the institute would continue to sponsor the programme and announced plans to introduce a degree course next year.

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