“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” Nelson Mandela
The hugs and tears of Morris Kaberia’s fellow inmates at Kamiti Maximum Security Prison in Nairobi on September 20, 2018 speak more eloquently than words ever could.
They wordlessly express the overwhelming joy and pride in an inmate’s freedom.
“We are happy and sad at the same time. We are happy that we got to contribute to one of our colleagues going home but saying goodbye is still painful. His fair trial rights were violated from the word go and we were able to prepare the summons that proved this, and I am touched,” says Philip Mueke, his voice breaking with emotion.
Philip clasps his face in his hands, overcome with emotion, perhaps imagining his own freedom too, someday.
“It would have been emotional to do my own case, so I brought my files to class and my brothers stepped in to help me build my case,” says Kaberia.
Wakili Kaberia, as they fondly call him, is marking his last day in prison after 13 years, thanks to the summons his fellow inmates helped him prepare.
The inmates in the tiny room full of donated law books are all part of a University of London Law programme run by African Prisons Project (APP) – an NGO that works with people in prison, putting the law in the hands of the underprivileged through providing free high quality legal advice, training and education to those living and working in prison.
“We empower those most in need of justice to access it for themselves. By helping people to realise their rights, we empower them to become change makers,” says Hamisi Mzari, a legal officer with APP.
Mzari says Kaberia’s application stood out because he expressed a strong desire to further his education and give back to the prison community.
“In his statement of purpose, he spoke about missing a chance to go to university because he was too proud to repeat Form Four so he could obtain the minimum entry requirements to join a public university. He said he would help his fellow inmates once he got his education,” adds Mzari.
This is no mean feat for the 47-year-old Kaberia, who at first trashed the idea of ‘going back to school’.
“He told me that it was his sons or daughters that were meant to go back to school, not him,” says William aka ‘The One and Only’, a fellow inmate and classmate who finally managed to convince Kaberia to join the diploma programme. Kaberia has since graduated with a diploma in law and is currently undertaking his degree studies.
Kaberia successfully defended himself in court on September 20, 2018, putting an end to a 13-year nightmare that started with a trip to Marikiti Market.
“I used to be a police officer in Embu and was operating an avocado business on the side. I owned a pickup, which I would use to drop my avocados off at Marikiti Market. One day when I was on my way back from the market, I was arrested and charged with robbery with violence.”
Kaberia refuses to divulge the details of his arrest and robbery with violence charge which saw him sentenced to death, but offers that it was a set-up.
“Things happened. It was only in court that I later heard that I had robbed someone. I want to go back into the world peacefully,” he declares with the wisdom of a man who has spent over a decade making peace with himself and his God.
“I was a bitter man when I came to Kamiti. When I was a police officer, I could not even imagine engaging in any way with a suspect, let alone a convicted criminal, because I thought once someone was a suspect, they were ruined; but here I was taking orders from the wardens.
“I was resistant at first, and kept shouting back that I was an officer just like them when they told me to (kaba) squat like my fellow inmates but they told me that in here, I was a prisoner.
“That was hard to deal with, but it taught me a lot,” he admits, much to the amusement of the acting officer in charge, Isaac Naderia, a soft-spoken, Godly man, who infuses his words with relevant Bible passages and offers a congratulatory bear hug to the jubilant Kaberia.
“It has been a long journey for him, having come to Kamiti on capital remand. He had a hard time accepting his new status, having been a police officer before but eventually, he gained back his self-esteem and joined the APP classes. He was a hard worker and go-getter from the word go.”
Naderia also describes Kaberia as a “living example that God is able”.
The first thing the Kaberia wants to do is to see his sons again.
“One day my son asked me one question over the phone: Dad will you ever come back? It was a very painful question for me, and I told him that with God, everything is possible. I never wanted them to visit me in prison because I did not want them to see me in my prison uniform,” says a tearful Kaberia.
The second thing he will do is visit his grandfather’s grave – he died in September 2010.
Even though Kaberia had been sentenced to death, he had been serving a life sentence after President Uhuru Kenyatta commuted the charges in 2015.
Kaberia still counts himself lucky and is grateful that the opportunity drew him closer to God.
“I was a lame Christian when I came to Kamiti, but that has changed in my time here and I have been seeing God’s hand since I entered prison. When I entered church, I learnt to live a life like Jesus who assisted the poor and needy. APP gave me the tools to help bring justice,” he says.
Kaberia dreamt of becoming a lawyer after watching Gitobu Imanyara defend his clients.
“As soon as I picked up my first law book, I never let it go. Studying law has changed my life.”
He has nothing but praise for his wife.
“I’m lucky that my wife is still with me. She has been the family pillar throughout my imprisonment, encouraged me and stayed by my side. That is rare. Many wives leave their husbands when they get imprisoned.”
Kaberia plans to go back to Kamiti. Not to sleep there, he says, much to the amusement of fellow inmates, but to continue assisting his fellow inmates with legal matters as he looks forward to finishing his degree.
To complete his law degree sponsored by APP and pursue a chance to one day appear in court either as a lawyer or intermediary.
And his message to the inmates he left behind?
“Never lose hope…keep fighting!”
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