Wilson Kinywa, 40, narrated how he got incarcerated in Kamiti Maximum Prison and released last month.
He went to prison a naïve villager immediately after clearing form four when he was sentenced to hang, but confronted his adversity and emerged free as a lawyer, 21 years later.
“February 13, 2019, forever remains my new birthday, the actual date I was born is no longer meaningful to me,” a teary-eyed Kinywa said.
Kinywa cleared form four in his Nyahururu backyard in 1998 and came to visit his kins in the city.
“The excitement of clearing form four could not be contained in the village. Like many rural chaps, I came to the city, pondering how I would join college.”
But one morning that year, he was caught in the cross-fires between the police and armed robbers in the city.
The robbers escaped.
Looking to have something to show, the police arrested Kinywa, charging him with robbery with violence, a capital offence for which he was convicted and commenced his prison time on December 17, 1998.
“The police claimed that they recovered Sh2 million from the robbers but only produced Sh800,000 in court,” he said.
Kinywa believes his fate was sealed using conjured evidence with his poor background aggravating the situation.
“I was not able to get legal representation and the judge only heard the narrative by the police to hear and make a determination,” the ex-convict said.
Life in prison
As expected, life in prison has no inspiring side to tell.
“Kamiti or any prison in this country is a condemnation camp. You get dehumanised and the worst in you is invoked,” he said, adding that punishment was not just physical, but also emotional and psychological.
“Many times we were stripped naked. The sight of nude men, young and old was just traumatising. My cubicle was adjacent to the hangman’s nooses and it had an opening to see the nooses, occasionally hear the cry of those being executed. This was an imaginable ordeal,” he said is a slow reflective tone.
However, President Daniel Moi was the last head of state to sign an execution order against a Kenyan – Sergeant Joseph Ogidi – who was hanged at Kamiti Prison in 1987 alongside six other Airforce soldiers of the Kenya Air Force for their role in the 1982 failed coup.
In 2009, President Mwai Kibaki commuted Kinywa’s death sentence to life imprisonment.
“This gave me hope; I even enrolled for CPA now that I was a form four leaver. I managed to do it up to section four,” Kinywa said.
With time he became courageous, standing up for fellow prisoners.
“When visitors came to Kamiti, I would be the spokesman for my colleagues,” he added.
It is through this that he impressed Alexander McClay, a UK judge who was touring the correctional facility.
“McClay decided to sponsor me to study diploma in law in a distance learning arrangement with the University of London, which I cleared in 2014,” he said.
The British judge, through his African Prisons project, further sponsored Kinywa to study a law degree at the same institution under the same arrangement.
“I’m actually graduating this coming October,” a delighted Kinywa told the Star.
Kinywa’s used his newly-acquired legal knowledge to gain freedom.
“I, with a group of 11 other prisoners lodged a petition to the High Court against the death sentence which eventually saw that declared unconstitutional in 2016,” he says.
“I was the one who prosecuted the petition, doing both oral and written submissions,” he said, adding that “destroyed people have nothing else to lose” when asked about what motivated him to take the risk.
Kinywa is now out to “lead a movement and agitation to revolutionize the criminal justice system in this country.”
“What we have is not a correctional or a rehabilitative system. It is hardening criminals to be used to commit even worse crimes because the treatment there invokes the beast in you,” he says.
“Many innocent people are rotting in jail yet real criminals are roaming free.”
About his life after the prison, Kinywa said he has nothing to his name, except his life.
“It is my brother hosting me, giving me food and clothing. My friends in civil society have been embraced me like their child,” he said.