Kenya: Prisoners Are People Too

The Langata female prison is the largest female prison in Kenya. It hosts more than 800 inmates in all categories of offences. “An inmate is already condemned, by the majority of society and often by their own family members”. Lillian Wambui Waweru, the Kenya prisons’ Catholic chaplaincy coordinator for the Nairobi region, shares her experience with us.

In the country, there are ninety-two prisons with a population of about 53.840. The two prisons, Nairobi and Langata, located west of the capital, approximately 20 kilometres out, are most likely the most congested prisons in Kenya.

Simialrly with other prisons in the country, they lack everything from mattresses, decent medical assistance to clothing – many inmates are nearly naked and are constantly sweating from the heat and overpopulation. Mary Mumbi: “We are surviving by the grace of God. I don’t think any human being can survive here”.

Another question is the juridical aspect. Many are in the prison without trial. “An inmate is already condemned, by the majority of society and often by their own family members”, said Lillian Wambui Waweru, the Kenya prisons’ Catholic chaplaincy coordinator for the Nairobi region. Miss Wambui has been working as a senior catechist at Langata women’s maximum prison for 18 years.

She talked about her activates, “The Kenyan prisons chaplaincy is made up of the Catholic, Protestant and SDA Churches, as well as the Muslims. At the Langata women’s prison, there is only one chapel that is being shared by both the Catholics and the Protestants. I have found the sharing of the chapel very challenging; it helped me build the spirit of team work with my colleagues from the Protestant group as well as network with the religious organisations within the Langata area. Currently, I work as the Catholic Chaplaincy Coordinator for the Nairobi Region holding eight prisons with sixteen catechists/chaplains”.

“The most fulfilling moment of my ministry is when I am with the inmates. I listen to their pain and brokenness and, above all, together we start a journey with them towards inner healing and restoration”.

Rehabilitation programmes

The prisons service motto is ‘kurekebisha na Haki, meaning ‘rehabilitation and justice’. Imprisonment is generally viewed by many in the society as a place of punishment but Miss Wambui believes that, “it as an opportunity given to the inmate for positive reinforcement of a behaviour that is more acceptable in the society and a tool for social transformation. One major, and yet very new tool of spiritual rehabilitation within our prisons is the Monastic Rehabilitation Program that gives an inmate the opportunity to go through a thirty-day retreat borrowed from Ignatian Spirituality. The inmates go through one week of self-awareness, one week of interpersonal relationships that gives them time to realise the need for forgiveness and reconciliation, one week looking at God’s love for us all and finally an eight days guided retreat”.

“This is the beginning of the journey towards reconciliation and a reflective journey of reliving past experiences but in the light of faith it is one that creates an opportunity for healing. It sets up an avenue to meet the offended, the families and society at large, to seek for forgiveness and acceptance back to the society. As an individual it wears one down to listen and hear the inmates open up very painful, sometimes covered wounds as well as relive their entry into crime which, if listened to from the human perspective, would leave one judgmental”, she pointed out.

This also gives those in prison an opportunity to dialogue openly about their concerns and fears. This is achieved through provision of pastoral care to the staff and their families through spiritual and psychological counselling and the offer of pre-marital counselling and family care follow-up. Chaplains provide grief counselling to inmates when their relatives die and even in other difficult circumstances.

Miss Wambui recognizes some discouragement. “Often I feel that as a spiritual worker I have done my part in helping an inmate through holistic rehabilitation, but it is normally very discouraging to see an inmate back in prison again. This is often due to lack of follow up, stigma and lack of acceptance back to the society despite having gone through reformation”.

She concluded “when I am serving them, I take myself as their sister, daughter and mother. When Jesus Christ talks of being in prison and not being visited, it is not just by those outside the prison, but is also by us who work in their midst. Personally, I am motivated by seeing Christ in the suffering and repentant inmates”.

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