Female prison warders impart life skills, transform lives
Charity Nzuma and Mary Munjuga are two names that never escape prisoners and staff at the prison located in Kiambu County.
Courtesy of efforts by the two ladies, the correctional facility may soon get international recognition, due to unique quality products it is producing.
Their magic interaction with the male inmates can’t escape any visitor and were it not for uniforms, one would easily mistake the two prison warders and inmates as members of the same family enjoying good times together.
On entering the prison premises, the tidy well-kept compound leads to well-tended gardens, where Munjuga is working with some prisoners, while Nzuma is in a separate area with other inmates training them on life skills.
It is these life skills, dedication and approach to the programmes that has endeared the officers to the prisoners.
“Feeding is a major challenge in many prisons, the biggest challenge even at family level is getting quality vegetables not only to meet the normal demand but also cater for family members with health conditions that require them to have a special vegetables diet,” says David Koech, officer in charge of prison. He adds: “However, we have overcome that and are now producing more than we need at the correctional facility.”
Munjuga is in-charge of not only supervising the prisoners in the farm, but also training them on most modern farming skills which they can continue to carry on with them at home after life in jail.
On the other hand, Nzuma is in-charge of paralegal training and value addition, training the inmates on how to make market competitive products from locally available raw materials.
Such products include potato and banana crisps, yoghurt, soaps and tomato sauce among others.
“We underwent an intensive training by our partners Resources Oriented Development Initiative (RODI) Kenya. We now realize that we do not have to use canes to rehabilitate the prisoners or farming as a punishment,” says Munjuga. “We make our prisoners understand the purpose of what they are doing here, letting them enjoy whatever products they produce which has become a motivation to them.”
According to Munjuga, it makes them more keen on whatever they are doing because they gain skills they will use at home.
“As you must have noted, we have varieties of vegetables and farming activities. Our vegetables are planted based on factors that include prisoners with a need for special diets,” explains Munjuga. She notes: “RODI-Kenya still supports us and has an employee attached to Kenya Prisons Service who is our technical adviser. We owe the success you witness here to them.”
Besides other vegetables that include spinach, kales and cabbages among others, the facilities favourite is black nightshade, locally known as managu, due to its nutritional and market value.
Listening to Munjuga explain how this unique vegetable is grown, one gets to understand not only her passion in farming and serving the prisoners, but her expertise in agriculture.
“We start by double digging, then make the beds as you can see. We then make furrows and apply organic compost manure because everything here is organically grown,” Munjuga explains.
Spacing at planting is one foot between rows and two inches between plants. Harvesting starts in about a month after planting.
“If you train a prisoner on farming skills, using organic methods that are cheaper, they will find something better to do when they get out of prison,” observes Munjuga. According to Munjuga, the prison only sells the surplus as they make KSh200 from a one by ten meters bed every week.
“We still save the institution a lot of money that would have gone to purchase of vegetables especially for inmates on special diet,” notes Munjuga.
The Kenya Prisons Service together with RODI-Kenya are looking for ways of drying and packaging the crops seeds for sale to other farmers due to the growing demand for the vegetables.
“We are unable to supply the demand for managu, a 50 gram of the seeds retails at KSh300 which is very expensive for small-scale farmers,” says Munjuga.
Francis Mutua, a prisoner under special diet due to high blood pressure and gastritis is among beneficiaries of the farm vegetables.
“I feared for my life after I was handed my jail term, I was not sure that prison could offer me the recommended diet due to the notion that inmates are only fed on kale or cabbages,” says Mutua. He explains: “My condition does not allow me to take kales while cabbages are of low nutritional value compared to recommended native vegetables.”
Mutua notes: “I have served 16 months here at Kiambu Prisons and I have never lacked the required vegetables. In fact, I get a bigger share than I would at home.” He adds: “In fact the vegetables are very expensive in the markets.”
As Munjuga is busy in farms, Nzuma eagerly wait for the quality produce to take it the next level, value addition.
She also has busy schedule training those in remanded prison on how to defend themselves in courtrooms and their rights as criminal suspects.
“It is more satisfying when I see suspects defend themselves in courtrooms using the skills I have trained them, I am happy when I see them win court battles especially where I am convinced that the suspect was innocent,” says Nzuma. She notes: “The paralegal skills also help me counsel the inmates and those in remand prison such that they change their lives after jail term or acquittal by the courts.”
From courts, other prisoners will be waiting for the RODI-Kenya trained paralegals to help them make some value added products.
Products locally available
Most of the raw materials are locally available but RODI-Kenya helps the Prison’s Service to purchase those that
they can’t afford.
“The inmates who undergo our life skills programme turnout to be very successful in life after jail,” says Nzuma. She notes: “A good number of them call me back to either share their success story or ask for more guidance and assistance.”
Luckily, RODI-Kenya has a follow-up scheme and gives some start-up kitty to the ex-prisoners.
Narrating how they make the yoghurt clearly labelled “A Product of Kiambu Prison, Nzuma says most prisoners cannot afford to purchase equipment and other products required to make the value added products, thus, they are also trained on how to improvise.
She gives the example of yoghurt making where they buy 500 gram ready yoghurt which helps them make ten more litres, packaged in half litter plastics that retail at KSh100 each.
RODI-Kenya Executive Director Eliud Ngunjiri says that the two officers have done them proud.
“It is common knowledge that male inmates prefer being trained by female officers and vice-versa,” says Ngunjiri. He explains: “We are impressed by way the officers relate with prisoners after our training.”
Impressed by products made by the inmates, Toni Ryf board member GLS Future Foundation for Development said his organization will seek ways to help market the products in Germany.
“We will start in a small way. We have a lot of festivities in schools, banks, companies and other institutional functions. We try to market the products in these events as we seek ways to have them stocked in supermarkets,” says Ryf.
He notes the organically grown products are just what the European markets are looking for.
“We are impressed by our partner RODI-Kenya which is promoting organic farming in prisons and implementing the schools education programs. We will also look for big companies that can help market the products,” said Ryf, during an inmate’s graduation ceremony at the prison.
Also present at the graduation ceremony was GSL Bank board member Dirk Kannacher who said that the organization believes in life skills offered by RODI in prisons and schools. He promised that as an organization they will be seeking other partners to help the programmes spread to all schools and prisons in Kenya.
“The life skills are key to addressing joblessness, creating wealth and fighting food insecurity in Kenya and Africa,” said Kannacher who also appealed to the Kenyan government to chip in and assist RODI-Kenya in rehabilitating and integrating the prisoners within the community.
A good example where the government should come in is a case where one inmate is given a dairy goat by RODI-Kenya and other prisoners have to wait until the goat has given birth so that its owner can donate the kid to a fellow ex-inmate.
“This is a long process because after acquiring life skills, the Government should come and help in purchasing the necessary tools of trade,” says Kannacher.
He also congratulated the inmates and ex-prisoners saying the decision to change and live a crime free life is an individual choice, while RODI-Kenya does its best in rehabilitation and integration in the community.
Ngunjiri advised the inmates to be positive, reminding them that they are only physically imprisoned but not their minds.