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Mothers in jail: Pain of raising children behind the prison walls

Lang'ata Daycare Centre at the Lang'ata Women's Prison in Nairobi. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Walking into Lang’ata Women’s Prison, one of the most notable structures is a daycare.

Inside the daycare, children are having fun oblivious of what is happening around them or why they are there in the first place.

While they are busy playing with their toys, their mothers are seen doing the morning chores - some are sweeping the compound, others are carrying laundry and firewood with the officers in tow. 

Purity Waithera is a mother of three who is also five months pregnant. From the look of things, Ms Waithera might deliver the baby while still in prison.  

“It’s very challenging being pregnant while in prison,” she says, “You don’t get the right medical care, the right food, sometimes I am so stressed and I just isolate myself,” she says trying so hard to control her tears. Waithera has been at Lang’ata Women’s prison since June last year after being accused of threatening to kill a colleague.

“We quarreled with my colleague at a club where we both worked. We insulted each other but the following day I was summoned to the police station where she complained that I threatened to kill her,” she says.

Waithera says that the colleague did not attend the first hearing of the case.

Lang’ata Women’s Prison, Nairobi, September 2021. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

She says her three children are leaving with her brother. 

“I feel bad being away from my children I know they are not okay,” she says.

Grace Watiri, another inmate in the prison was sentenced to seven years while she was one month pregnant.

In 2018 Watiri was found guilty of manslaughter after stabbing her husband during a fight.

“The marriage was violent so I moved out, then one day he came to where I  was leaving with our child and he picked a fight, during the fight I stabbed him,” Watiri says, adding that her biggest fear was being separated from her son.

She gave birth and now her son is three years old. 

Watiri was to be separated from her son this year as he would have turned four years. However, her sentence was reduced to four years - she will leave with her son.

Her son has been asking questions about life outside the prison gates.

Toys at Lang'ata Women's Prison's daycare centre. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

“Raising a child in prison is not easy. Sometimes he asks me why visitors wear different clothes and not the uniform he’s used to seeing us wearing,” she adds

Watiri who had dropped out of school while in Form 2, took advantage of the situation and studied while in prison. She cleared her secondary school education in 2020 and got a C+, she plans to join Chuka University and study criminology and security studies.

Watiri regrets her actions and hopes her late husband’s family forgave her.

We meet another inmate. A mother of two whose identity we protect since her children do not know that she is in prison. We will call her Mary. She says that in 2012 she teamed up with a friend and started a cereals business.

The business grew - they got two more partners. She claims one of her business partners failed to deliver cereals worth Sh698,000 and disappeared with the money.

“We looked for her until June 2017.  That is when the police came for me and arrested me. I was two months pregnant when I was taken to remand. I gave birth in prison. When my daughter was two and half years, a well-wisher paid  Sh100,000 cash bail for me,” she says.

Mary says her pregnancy was riddled with complications and being in prison made things even harder. 

 

Cribs and beddings at Lang'ata Women's Prison's daycare centre. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Mary was sentenced to four years in prison in August last year. She had to leave her daughter with a caretaker while the older, 11-year-old daughter lives with her mother.

“I did not want to overburden my mother with my other daughter. I trusted my caretaker with her. The 11-year-old thinks I am in Nairobi working. When she says she wants to visit I always tell her we will plan,” she adds.

Mary says that the fact that she is not raising her daughters in their formative years is something she regrets.

”I should be there with my daughters guiding them through life as a mother should,” she adds.

Mary’s hope is to raise Sh350,000 fine asked by the court for her to be freed.