When Peter Ouko arrived at Kamiti Maximum Prison in a rickety police lorry commonly known as Mariamu (Black Mary) 14 years ago, he was a distraught 28-year-old man whose life on the fast lane had come to a grinding halt after he was sentenced to death for his wife’s murder.
He was not new to prison life, having spent two years in Industrial Area Remand Prison during the long and tedious trial.
Prior to his arrest and incarceration, Ouko was running his own company- AlPeter Technical Company that specialised in Interior Design, car alarms and accessories.
Fourteen years later, on August 14, 2014, Ouko was the centre of attraction in this small community of 1,921 prisoners. Reason? He was being presented with a Diploma in the Common Law from the University of London International Programmes in an exciting and unusual convocation ceremony that attracted guests from as far as the United Kingdom.
Ouko, whose death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 2009, went against all odds to make history as the first prisoner in Kenya to get a Diploma in Law from the prestigious University of London.
It was a journey that begun in 2006, when the inmate was asked by the Judicial Service Commission to represent other inmates in voicing their concerns to the JSC.
“The former Attorney-General Amos Wako asked me if I would like to study law. I gave him a caveat and told him that I will study if they paid for my education,” says Ouko.
He would later enrol for a law degree at the University of London through their international programme and with the support of the African Prisons Project and the British Council Kenya he was able to take the course.
PRESERVE THEIR DIGNITY
“Through the distance learning programmes offered by the University of London, prisoners such as Peter gain the power and knowledge to transform their own life and that of others to preserve their dignity and empower themselves to take control of their own destiny,” says Mr Tony Reily, country director, British Council Kenya.
Pursuing an international programme to completion is hard enough for normal students, but for a prisoner with limited resources, it is nothing short of a miracle.
“I am thankful that a few sponsors and friends came through for me. I would get books sent from the university in the UK. Sometimes they would take very long to arrive,” says the 44-year-old father of two.
His mother, Mrs Lornah Ouko, was nearly moved to tears as she accompanied her son to the podium to receive the diploma.
“I am speechless. When he was imprisoned 16 years ago, I thought he came to prison to die. But I thank God that he is physically fit and he has achieved so much. I am so proud of my son,” says Lornah.
Principal High Court Judge Richard Muongo, who represented Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, described Peter’s fete as a “singularly spectacular achievement” in spite of his difficult circumstances in prison.
Prisons Commissioner-General Isaya Osugo said the initiative was part of the ongoing prisons reform process that ensures prisoners’ access to education and smooth re-integration to the society upon release.
FROM DESIGNER TO DEATH ROW CONVICT
- Peter Ouko is serving a life sentence, after he was convicted for the murder of his wife. After his arrest, Ouko stayed at the Industrial Area Remand Prison from January 1999 to May 2001.
- He was sentenced to death in May 2001 and sent to the Naivasha Maximum Prison where he stayed until September 2001. He was later transferred to Kamiti Maximum Security Prison in September 2002, where he has been since. He was on death row for 8 years, 2001 to 2009, until his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, which he is now serving.
- So far, Ouko has appealed his case twice in the Court of Appeal. The first time was in 2002, when he had to wait for six long months for the judgment after eight days of court hearings.
- But two of the three judges hearing his case were sacked before they could deliver the judgment. Ouko filed another petition, and waited for seven months before the final judgment. The verdict of the Court of Appeal is now the subject of a petition.