Mrs Grace Anyango Odhiambo exudes unmatched confidence as she takes a stroll in the Lang’ata Women’s prison corridors.
Mrs Odhiambo, the officer-in-charge of the prison, was last week honoured with the 2009 Outstanding Correctional Service Employee global award, an honour she says humbled her. “The inmates deserve humane conditions as well despite the past offences they have committed,” said the 45-year-old officer at the prison.
Having been at the helm of the prison for three years now, her medal put Kenya on the global map as the top correctional facility worldwide. The International Corrections and Prisons Association based in Canada accorded Mrs Odhiambo the prize in recognition of the significant work undertaken in reforming the jail. The news, delivered to Mrs Odhiambo via email, comes amidst numerous reforms she has spearheaded.
The award will be presented at the association’s annual conference to be held in Needhams Point in Barbados, at the end of October. “Can I be the first to congratulate you on the award which represents the recognition of your many colleagues and your work in the field of corrections?” read the message signed by ICPA executive director Ed Wozniak.
The first born in a family of eight children, Mrs Odhiambo acquired self-discipline and a sense of responsibility from taking care of her younger siblings while her parents were away. “I was the hockey captain and later the school captain in high school,” said Mrs Odhiambo, who also emerged the best cadet in 1986 during her graduation from the prison training school.
Her numerous projects at the prison are part of the thesis she defended as part of her Masters degree last year. Titled “The long-term effects on the incarceration of women offenders on the nuclear family”, the paper centred around providing favourable conditions for inmates to reduce their stress levels. In 2007 she received a State commendation, Order of the Golden Warrior, from President Kibaki for her leadership skills.
Honesty, discipline and teamwork are values the administrator says she fosters in her staff and inmates as well. “My dream is to give the prison a human face and ensure the reformed inmates fully reintegrate into the community,” the mother of two said. The institution also runs a remote parenting programme, the first of its kind in the country, where children whose mothers are serving terms visit their parents at the end of the school term with their report cards.
“Parents can monitor their children’s school performance even from prison,” Mrs Odhiambo said. The once dark, dirty and smelly prison cells have neatly arranged windows and have a fresh coat of paint, courtesy of Mrs Odhiambo’s plea to donors and well-wishers. The prison was the first to acquire beds donated by well-wishers and now has more than 240.
“Elderly women, expectant women and those serving with their children are given priority,” she said, acknowledging that 70 per cent of the institution has beds. The inmates have also benefited from a resource centre that has provided them with sewing machines, computers and a library following partnerships with donors under the stewardship of Mrs Odhiambo.
Three sports pitches, complete with showers, toilets and sports kits are also part of the newest projects that sees the prisoners keep fit. Her greatest triumph, says the Masters of Arts sociology graduate, is the establishment of the remote parenting programme.
Married to Mr Tobias Odhiambo, a computer consultant in Kisumu, she says a supportive family has been her pillar as she ran the prison and studied for her Masters degree at the University of Nairobi. When we visited the institution on Sunday the inmates were jubilant on hearing of their boss’s award and asked to personally congratulate her in their respective cells.
The inmates said the prison boss had created a conducive environment for them to air their grievances. “A woman has special needs which she takes to heart whenever we approach her,” said Pauline Amana, 27, the 2007 Miss Lang’ata.