Beyond the rusty steely gates of Thika Main Prison, ear piecing ululations and songs of triumph greet passers-by. A group of female jailbirds donning clean and pressed uniforms take to the stage in a choreographed dance. Deep and rich voices of male convicts serenade the audience which breaks up in a thunderous clap at the end of the traditional song.
The entire Prison fraternity is in a celebratory mood. This day, nine inmates and 27 warders are graduating with certificates in ICT literacy; a rare occurrence in Kenya’s prison system. Buoyed by new found knowledge, no amount of slanted public opinion would stop the merriments.
The graduands are beneficiaries of Eneza programme, an initiative conceived and implemented by students of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) with an aim to intensify computer literacy in underserved quarters such as prisons and police stations.
In the arrangement, volunteer students drawn mainly from the School of Computing and Information Technology teach prison staff and inmates on computer applications, internet, emailing, and book keeping among others.
Francis Gachuri who is 75 years old is one of the graduands. Before landing in prison, Gachuri was a budding businessman. Now computer literate, he feels empowered and ready to re-integrate into the socio-economic system.
“When I get my business going again, I hope to buy a computer and use it to advertise my business instead of traditional methods which have since been overtaken by technology,” Gachuri says.
Gachuri is not alone. Many of the young convicts with elementary computer knowledge believe, at the end of their terms, they can use internet to search for jobs and even apply online.
The enthusiasm and avidity of the graduands struck a chord with JKUAT Vice Chancellor, Prof. Mabel Imbuga, who presided over the ceremony, Thursday April 23, 2014.
The Vice Chancellor challenged the inmates to look beyond their current plight and work towards creating productive post-prison lives. Prof. Imbuga said JKUAT would support the programme by availing additional computers and teaching materials to benefit more individuals.
Prof. Imbuga added that JKUAT would equally be pleased to partner with the correctional facility to train inmates in other key areas including modern agribusiness and entrepreneurship.
One beneficiary, Inspector Susan Mataria, says she will dearly miss the unfolding beneficial engagement between the two institutions. At 65 years, she has only two more months to retire from the service. She is however happy that she attended the training.
“The young students embraced us and taught us well. Upon retirement, I am going to deploy my new knowledge to run my business. It was a truly awesome experience,” Susan acknowledged
As the inmates and the officers recounted their success stories the young, creative and selfless students who took them through the programme were brimming with satisfaction. They had effectively played their part in narrative of giving back to the society.
Kevin Gitau, a final year Information Technology student who coordinated the programme of 21 volunteers believes time is rife for the initiative to be rolled out to other correctional facilities in Kenya. He avers that this is one avenue to complement the technical skills in woodwork, metalwork, farming, hairdressing and other artistic engagements inmates get while at prison.
Addressing the ceremony, the Officer in charge, Samson Kunzu thanked JKUAT for the gesture that he reckoned had greatly contributed to behaviour change aspect of inmates’ rehabilitation. He said his facility would work closely with the University to ensure those who leave prison can leverage on their skills and competencies to gain a new footing in life.