Dressed in blue khaki uniform, David Parseen jovially greets us as he directs the Lifestyle team to a quiet place at the notorious Kamiti Maximum Prison.
He is eager to share the tumultuous story of his life, he says, and does not want any interruption from fellow inmates.
For someone who has been sentenced to death and has been in prison for the last 11 years, Parseen, 41, looks surprisingly cheerful considering his circumstances. His fellow inmates know him as a preacher and a motivational speaker and he spends most of his time offering counselling services to them, making him a popular figure.
The prison has reformed him, he says. And he has good reasons for that upbeat self-assessment. Among his greatest achievements behind bars is writing two motivational books. He has also earned six diplomas in theology, biblical studies and para-legalism.
Parseen says that before he found himself in prison, he had exposed himself to bad company that introduced him to stealing and other criminal activities.
His 40 days came when he took part in a robbery where his gang shot dead a Mombasa-based businessman.
In 2006, he was found guilty of robbery with violence and sentenced to hang.
But because no prisoner has been hanged since 1987, it meant he would spend the rest of his life behind bars.
The strict surveillance and tough procedures at the prison bogged him down and at some point he gave up on life. Living had become meaningless, or so he thought. But after various counselling sessions and rehabilitation, he says he became a new person — but still regrets his criminal past.
He is now among the most transformed inmates in the prison and holds the title of a trustee, meaning that he is more privileged than any other inmate.
And that comes with the plain blue khaki uniform, not the stripped ones worn by other inmates.
His first book Rescued Not Arrested was published in 2014. It is an 84-page book printed by Kijabe Printing Press. The second one, A Transformed Leadership, came off Oracle House Publishers last year and it has 139 pages. The third book, The Beloved Criminal, is on the way.
“The book is in the final stages and is expected to change and transform lives of many,” he said of his on-going writing project.
Parseen says he had the option of sitting back and wallowing in despair like many others in his situation, but he took a different turn by sharing his personal experiences and knowledge as a lesson to others.
The first book is a guide to parents and children who have suffered neglect. In the book Parseen says many parents are struggling in vain to bring up successful families in the modern world.
PERSONAL LIFE EXPERIENCES
However hard they try to invest in giving them good education and employing the best domestic workers to take care of them, things have continued to turn out to the contrary.
The book delivers a personal life experience on the circumstances that led to his being jailed.
In the book, Parseen who now regrets committing the crime that led to his imprisonment, elaborates the experience he went through as a child that sparked a chain of changes in him. These mistakes in his formative years, he believes, eventually led to him being a death row criminal.
“I thought it wise for me to write this book with an aim of reaching out to as many people as possible. I believe my life-changing experience will save many from going through the rough and painful path I have gone through,” he writes.
According to Parseen, raising up children is a God-given responsibility which parents have greatly neglected. He blames his parents for having left them under the care of house girls and employees while growing up in Mau-Narok.
He says the very people his parents entrusted to raise him up, hoping that they will do well, turned out to be the source of his destruction.
“As I was growing up, I spent most of my childhood with house helps. My mother was never close to us even though she loved us so much and always worked so hard for the best interest of her children,” he says.
Circumstances forced her to be away from them because she wanted them to have a good foundation. Without knowing that she was exposing him to a disaster and bad company, she was always busy searching for money for them.
“My mother blamed poverty and illiteracy. Her goal was to make sure we would never go through such a barbaric lifestyle she went through while growing up as a child,” he told Lifestyle during an interview in the prison compound.
The mother operated various businesses, including a café and a bar.
“I remember a certain man by the name Githuku from Kihingo-Njoro in the then extensive Nakuru district. He worked at my mother’s café as a cook. I was only eight years old and in Class Two when he was employed at the café,” he said.
The man happened to be a chain smoker and since the mother also owned a cigarettes shop, the man influenced Parseen to steal cigarettes from the shop in exchange for a cake.
“If I failed to meet the demands he would deny me food at the café and even threaten to burn me with hot cooking oil and I had no choice than to fulfil his demands,” he says.
Since he had access to his mother’s businesses, it was easy for him to steal from the shop in order to be in good terms with the man.
“The man would threaten me every time I told him I will report him to my mother. With time, he taught me how to steal money and other commodities from my mother’s shop,” he says.
Parseen explains that by the time he was 10 years old, he was already a “trained thief” who had been put to test, proven and qualified.
“I smoked my first cigarette at the age of 12 after being forced to by one of my mother’s employees,” he says.
They had ordered him to go and steal cigarettes from his mother’s shop. After that, they forced him to take a puff and that became a trend. Later he started drinking alcohol and engaging in premarital sex.
“I remember a day I went to school drunk while I was still in primary school,” he says.
When he joined Narok High School, he was attracted to bad company. His group would often go on drinking sprees and disco parties.
“As days went by, we developed an addiction to alcohol and other hard drugs. Since we had become highly dependent on drugs, we had no option but to develop crafty ways to earn more money to sustain our habits,” he says.
“We befriended some elderly women who would give us money in exchange for sexual favours. The women kept us in their houses, fed us and even bought us clothes. As our appetite for beer, miraa, bhang and other drugs grew our hosts soon found it difficult to accommodate us,” he says.
After completing Form Four, it was considerably easier for him to steal from home to get money.
“I would steal grains stored in bags in my mother’s house and fill them with sand,” he says.
On several occasion, he was arrested and locked up in police cells on charges of obtaining money by false pretence.
But in 2006, he was arrested and charged in court with robbery with violence. He and a group of armed criminals had attempted to rob a Mombasa businessman. But things went awfully wrong and the businessman was shot dead in the process.
Parseen was found guilty and sentenced to death, which is why Kamiti has been his home for slightly over a decade. He has no hope of leaving the jail soon, unless released under the president’s mercy.
“By then I was only 30 years old and I was not married,” he said.
Parseen says life in prison has become his turning point as it was “the place that rescued me from my criminal behaviour.” By now, he reasons, he would have been shot dead while robbing people.
“After spending sometime in custody, things started taking a different direction. All the people I was close to before my arrest disowned me, including my family members,” he says.
He started looking for a place to get solace and that’s how he decided to get saved. Although serving a death sentence, life took a U-turn and he began encouraging other inmates. The Bible also become a place to find peace and encouragement.
He has undertaken various courses that include human skills and counselling, alternative to violence programme, paralegal training, drug abuse and Hiv and Aids.
Also a family counsellor, Parseen says negligence by parents contributes in promoting crime and crime related activities.
Through his books, he hopes to change society from behind the bars. His second title moves from his upbringing to bring insight of his experience as a leader in Kamiti.
“Society thinks that nothing good can come out of prison. I want to debunk that stereotype through my books. We are taught a lot of things inside here and it will be useless if we don’t use the knowledge acquired to impact the society out there,” he says.
He believes God had a reason to take him to jail as he has obtained ample time to serve him and author books that can help change the society.
Parseen, however, still harbours hope that one day he will regain his freedom despite being condemned to spend the rest of his life behind bars. He argues that the law should be changed to redefine “life sentence”, especially after the gallows were abandoned.
“Life sentence should be a certain period, then the inmate is set free. Prison is a correctional facility and you cannot correct someone for their entire life,” he says.
Additional reporting by Leonard Onyango
Inmates embrace ‘Man Enough’ challenge to be responsible and significant in society
BY SONI KANAKE
In a society where men are increasingly being accused of neglecting responsibility, one man has taken up the challenge of changing that narrative. Mr Simon Mbevi — a lawyer by profession, pastor and founder of Transform Nations — runs a programme that he says helps transform manhood and provide a safe place to deal with personal issues.
“Man Enough challenges men to take up their place of responsibility and significance in the society,” says Mbevi.
It is a challenge that has also been taken to the most unlikely of places: prisons.
When Lifestyle visited Kamiti Maximum Prison, Henry Kisingu, the Officer in Charge, explained that facilities such as his are slowly turning from being punitive to corrective.
“Regardless of what landed them in jail, if they can succeed to get change from within, then an individual can transform for the better,” says Kisingu, by way of explaining why he allows spiritual programmes after a proper review.
The prison recently introduced “Man Enough,” which was very successful at Nairobi West Prison.
It includes programmes like “Boys to Men”, “Shujaa Dad” and “Mothers of sons”.
“Man Enough touches on authentic masculinity, with emphasis on honour, a man’s roles in society and caring for those close to him,” says Mr Mbevi.
Mr Kisingu says the positive attitude towards the programme is a good sign and hopes it can be self-sustaining in future with some inmates acquiring skills to train others.
Most of those involved preferred to be identified by their initials for this article. HK, a former security guard is serving a 20 year term on charges of defilement but maintains he was framed. Since his sentence commenced in April 2016, HK has already done theology and counselling courses. Currently, he has enrolled for the Man Enough programme.
“A man is not defined by his beard and trousers. Mwanaume ni vitendo na majukumu (A man is defined by his actions and responsibilities),” says HK, who admits he previously viewed taking care of his family as a burden.
“When my wife asked me for money for food or the children’s school fees, I felt she was bothering me,” says HK.
Even behind bars, HK is still able to advise his children.
“They come to visit me and we talk about the challenges and decisions they are facing and I advise them on what to do,” he says.
JM, 34, is serving a life sentence for defiling a minor. He too, maintains he is innocent. “My biggest hurdle is that I cannot disclose to my family that I am in for life,” he says.
However, he is encouraged by the progress he is making in the Man Enough programme.
“If there is a problem in the family where my wife cries and I also cry, who will take charge and resolve the problem?” he says.
MM, a Standard Eight drop-out was separated with his wife before he was condemned to hang for murder after being involved in the beating up of a thief to death when he went to visit his in-laws to resolve their marital dispute.
His biggest regret is taking up a second wife, a feud that caused his first wife to walk away. The father of three children aged 20, 18 and nine years says he is a product of a dysfunctional family.
“My father did not fulfil his duties and was not supportive. He and my mother eventually separated,” he says, adding that he followed in his father’s footsteps.
MM, who still advises his children whenever they visit, believes “I would not be here if I had not abandoned my first wife.”
The inmates all seem to share a common view of how a man should carry himself and be the head of the family. “Man Enough has taught me a man should take up his responsibilities and must stand up to be counted,” says DM, 47, who is in for defilement charges. “A man should always remember he is like the pillar that supports a building and family looks up to us.”
Contrary to what most people assume, DM says men too need to be given a hearing.
“Sharing my story with you makes me feel better,” he says in reference to the Lifestyle interview.