Bishara Hamo underwent forced Female Genital Mutilation as a child, and will live with the scars all her life....
"Sasa imba wimbo wako" were my father's final words when he visited me in maximum prison
I was in class eight back then. My cousin, who I had no idea was a robber, stole a car belonging to the Ambassador of France. At that time we were living in Mountain View Estate, Kangemi. On that material day, he came with his friends and parked the car outside the flat. He told me to change my clothes because we were going on a road trip to Kakamega.
I was very excited although all this time I had no idea that the car we would travel in was stolen. We left home but when we reached Kakamega, we were arrested by flying squad officers and taken to Pangani Police Station. The owner of the car later said that he had not seen me during the robbery, but the police insisted that I be arrested because I was found with the gang.
How was your experience in court?
We were charged in court, tried and found guilty of robbery with violence. I was a first offender and standing in the dock was scary. I vividly remember when I was asked questions, I trembled and tears flowed freely from my eyes. I really regretted why I had accepted to accompany my cousin for the road trip. I also couldn’t understand why he would put me in such a mess because I was never a troublemaker. After judgment was read, we were escorted to Kamiti Maximum Prison to face the hangman’s noose.
Did you ask your cousin why he framed you in the robbery?
Yes; and every time I asked him this he would tell me to man up and face the consequences. He was so hard on me. He later died in prison. Most times I would confine myself in a corner and cry in anguish. The prison wardens took pity on me and told me that I would get used to prison life.
Did you try to fight for your freedom?
In 2003, four years after my sentence, I tried to appeal my case. However it was dismissed. Five years later I tried again and it was still dismissed. Now all that was left for me was the president’s signature so that I could be executed. I had lost faith completely. I was staring at death in the execution chamber.
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- How a bar fight landed me in prison
- Life in Kamiti was no bed of roses
- Serving time in prison made me a better man
I will never forget my father’s words during one of his visits. He told me ‘sasa imba wimbo wako’ (now dance to your own tune) and he never came back to visit me. Luckily, capital punishment was later abolished and I was put on life sentence. It was a new dawn and my hope to attain freedom was restored.
You were transferred to the famous King’ong’o prison in 2013. Was it because of indiscipline?
My transfer came after inmates went on strike at Kamiti prison. They wanted the power of mercy to be reviewed. After the strike it was declared that all prisoners would be reshuffled to different jails across the country.
A prison strike…
Is tantamount to post-election violence or a political uprising. It is very chaotic and defiant inmates are thoroughly disciplined. When one inmate starts trouble, the entire block is punished for failing to report the matter.
The 1999 prison strike was the worst, but I survived because I had been advised by veteran convicts to stay naked when officers were coming to discipline us. The officers would never touch a naked inmate because it showed vulnerability. As soon as the King’ora (bell) rang, officers armed with rungus would descend on inmates mercilessly.
Tell us about the visit to State House which changed your life.
When I was transferred to King’ong’o prison I started to write poems which talked about nation building. Later I was lucky to be part of a group that was invited to State House to perform for the president. After the performance, President Uhuru Kenyatta promised to pay us a visit in prison. He asked one of the officers to write for him my name on a piece of paper, which he did.
Is it the president who recommended your pardon?
For sure I don’t know, and I also couldn’t understand why the president had requested for my name. When the first group of inmates was exonerated, my name was not on the list but that did not dampen my spirit.
At around 5 o’clock in the evening of 26th October, an officer told me that it was time for me to go home. I couldn’t believe it. I was sweating. The officer told me that it was the president who had recommended my release. I had previously requested him to remember me during one of our performances and to my surprise it came to pass.
How did you face your family and neighbors after your release?
At first, the villagers in my hometown, Kapsabet, would judge me harshly because they never believed that an inmate can transform for the better. Some people proposed that I be taken to the river for cleansing but I declined.
I’m grateful that with time my family and community accepted me. In conclusion, I think presidential clemency should be done on prison wardens’ report to identify reformed inmates so that reintegration can be easier and seamless.