From jail to employment: Empowered ex-prisoners rewrite their stories in Nakuru

“It never crossed my mind that one day I would be a free man. I never thought that I would ever reunite with my family. My father and my elder sister died. My dream of becoming a successful beautician is now a distant memory. I wasted my youth because of greed and the pursuit of a lavish life.”

These are the words of Joel Kabari, a former prisoner who spent 20 years behind bars. Once a dangerous criminal who raided banks and business premises in Nakuru and Eldoret, the long arm of the law caught up with him and he paid a big price for the wrong choices he made in life.  

Ex-convict Joel Kabari weeps during an interview in Bahati, Nakuru County.

Photo credit: Boniface Mwangi| Nation Media Group

“My stay in prison was the worst part of my life. I got depressed after serving jail terms in Nakuru, Naivasha and Kamiti Maximum Prisons. I was jailed at the age of 25 years, at the prime of my youth,” he said. 

Brandishing a pistol, Mr Kabari would storm shopping malls in Nakuru town together with his accomplices and order everyone to lie down before stealing money and other valuables.

He neither used a getaway car nor a motorbike to escape from the scene of the crime.

Mr Kabari said that he often used his mountain bike or he simply walked, melted into the crowd and vanished into thin air.

“I liked striking my targets in the evening when businesspeople were almost closing for the day. That was an excellent time to accomplish my mission and disappear into the darkness without being noticed or traced,” he said.

But his luck finally ran out, and he was arrested in 1998 after being on the run for four years. Mr Kabari, together with his gang, had raided a beer depot in Nakuru town and stolen Sh1.2 million.

After a two-year trial at the High Court in Nakuru, Mr Kabari was sentenced to hang in 2002. But he got a lifeline when former President Mwai Kibaki, who died on April 21, 2022, commuted his death sentence to life imprisonment.

Twice, he appealed for the jail term to be reduced but lost. On his third attempt, the court agreed, and his term was reduced to 21 years after being condemned to a lifetime behind bars.

When Mr Kabari stepped out of jail on December 19, 2019, the only things he had were the certificates and skills he attained from the training he got during his time in jail. 

He has turned over a new leaf in life. Now a reformed man, Mr Kabari is a qualified carpenter. During his lengthy period of confinement, he studied and also became a catechist. He now serves in the Holy Trinity Catholic Church.

The resident of Ndege Ndimu farm in Lanet, Nakuru East, was set free thanks to an alternative dispute resolution mechanism. The complainant in his case forgave him. High Court Judge Joel Ndung’u sitting in Nakuru granted the wish.

For four years, Mr Kabari tried hard to rebuild his life. He did menial jobs to support his mother and siblings. He had never found an opportunity to put his carpentry skills to use until last month when the prison social welfare department linked him up with his current employer.

 Mr Kabari is now a married man and is happy that he can provide for his young family from the income he receives from the upholstery and joinery job that he does at the carpentry shop where he is now employed.

Another former convict, Antony Muricho, from Trans Nzoia County tasted freedom six months ago after completing his 20-year jail term. He is grateful that he has found something meaningful to do in life.

Mr Muricho was convicted in 2004 for robbery with violence and defilement. In 2009 he appealed the sentence and it was reduced to a life term, and later to a 20-year sentence.

While in prison he learnt art work, carpentry, joinery and welding. These skills have given him fresh hope.

Mr Muricho recalled how he landed in prison after hosting a party at a club in Lodwar which was attended by school-going girls when a fight broke out among his peers. He was charged with robbery with violence and defilement.

“I was only 18 years old and very naïve; I had just completed high school. Life is not easy while in prison. When you do not have freedom it is tough. Now I can wake up and go about my business with no restriction as was the case when I was in prison. Freedom is important,” said the 38-year-old.

“I have been out of prison for seven months. I am happy that I am putting into practice what I learnt while serving my jail term. I am now exposed in life. I feel as if I have been reborn.”

David Korir, another former prisoner, counts himself lucky after walking out of Nakuru GK Prison in 2017 a free man.

He was arrested in 2004 and charged with robbery with violence after spending four years in remand. The judge sentenced him to 10 years in jail after reducing the charge to robbery.

Ex-convict David Korir during an interview in Bahati, Nakuru County.

Photo credit: Boniface Mwangi| Nation Media Group

Six years later, Mr Korir has found a new purpose in life. He is putting the skills he learnt in jail to good use.

“Skills acquired in prison always go to waste when former convicts are released from jail. But we are lucky that we found someone who accommodated us without judging our past. We are now able to fend for our families,” Mr Korir said.

Ms Josephine Kuria who owns a workshop in Bahati Sub-County, Nakuru County has employed the three reformed ex-convicts.

She said that former prisoners need a second chance in life, and by offering employment them employment they put to practice what they learnt while behind bars. She said this keeps them busy, adding that when they remain idle they are tempted to go back to a life of crime.

Ex-convicts Joel Kabari, Anthony Murichu and David Korir with their employers Josephine Kuria and her husband Mortem Sorum at their workshop in Bahati, Nakuru County.

Photo credit: Boniface Mwangi| Nation Media Group

“They are doing a good job, we need them and they need us also. The most impressive thing about them is that they are Christians, which is what attracted us to them. They are doing a good job; they are hardworking and self-disciplined,” she says.

According to Ms Kuria, to avoid the high rate of recidivism where freed prisoners return to jail over repeat offences, they should be helped to reintegrate into society.

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