|When Maralal Resident Magistrate PC Biwott sentenced Solomon Wanyeki Mukuna and his co-accused to seven years in prison on May, 28 2004, he thought he had not heard him right.
By BOAZ KIPNGENO
Kenya: When Maralal Resident Magistrate PC Biwott sentenced Solomon Wanyeki Mukuna and his co-accused to seven years in prison on May, 28 2004, he thought he had not heard him right.
But soon the reality that he was going to be locked away for almost a decade sank in and an overwhelming sense of helplessness engulfed him.
The court had found him and his compatriot guilty of breaking into a shop and stealing goods worth Sh160,000. Their attempt to appeal the ruling was dismissed by appellate judge Daniel Musinga, sealing their fate.
In his judgement dated March, 18 2005, Musinga said he was satisfied that the conviction of the appellants was safe and saw no grounds upon which to overturn the judgement of the trial court.
Although Mukuna has since served his sentence and even acquired carpentry skills while in prison, it has not been easy reintegrating into the society.
He says society does to want to be associated with him and his fellow convicts as most people believe that ‘once a criminal, always a criminal.’
This, he says, is the reason nobody would hire him despite being a qualified carpenter.
But never one to give up, Mukuna decided to set up a carpentry business, the Ex-Prisoner Workshop, in Maralal town.
The business has grown in leaps and bounds and he has even employed another ex-convict, Lepalo Leboo, who had served a three-year jail term in Nakuru Prison for manslaughter.
Lepalo says he was charged with murder which was later reduced to manslaughter for shooting an expectant woman in Barasloi while serving as Kenya police reservist.
“It is only my close family members who know I am not a murderer,” Lepalo says.
The two have also teamed up with 60 other ex-prisoners to form a self-help group which he believes can help transform their lives.
“We meet every month and so far we have raised close to Sh5000,’’ Mukuna explains. He says they intend to seek assistance from well-wishers and non-governmental organisations to construct a bigger workshop.
“There are over 400 former prisoners who are idle within Samburu County and who are finding it hard to reintegrate into their communities,” he says.
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He also features in a weekly show on a local Christian station where he encourages the youth to shun crime.
Mukuns says he also uses the show to prevail upon the community to accept former convicts back into society.
Now a foremost crusader against crime, Mukuna holds motivational talks in churches and prison cells within and outside Samburu County.
“This enables me to meet others and share my testimony,” he says.
“We are also involved in environmental activities such as tree planting,” he adds, displaying a permit issued to them by the National Environmental Management Authority Director, Samburu County, to conduct conservation exercises.
He attributes the challenges former convicts face after being released to lack of a proper follow-up system.
According to him, prison staff and probation officers, who are aware of the rehabilitation convicts have undergone, should be involved in their reintegration back into society. He says pardoning of prisoners or completion of their sentences should be marked with celebration and not condemnation.