Inside Kisii Women’s Prison, where hope and empowerment bloom

An inmate lifts a trophy as she celebrates after winning the chess competition during International Women's Day on March 7, 2024, at the Kisii Women's Prison. PHOTO/Our Reporter, Scholar Media Africa.
  • Kisii Women’s Prison was well assured that re-integrating its convicts back to their usual setting was more than just a gift.
  • The celebration comes at the backdrop of the 2022 inaugural launch of the Chess Federation program at the Kisii Prison.
  • Women who were freed from the center were urged to share the knowledge and skills learnt during their term service.

March encountered worldwide celebrations from women of all walks of life, from red roses and dinner dates to gifting.

This year’s theme for the International Women’s Day (IWD) was Invest in women, accelerate progress.

It was during this month that the Kisii Women’s Prison opened its doors to different stakeholders and well-wishers who came together to celebrate women serving jail terms.

Hyped on the strength of women as pillars of families, Margaret Waithera, Officer-in-Charge of the Kisii Women’s Prison, lamented that most inmates in her institution were petty offenders aged between 18 to 35 years and needed support to reintegrate back to their communities.

At the heart of the celebration, Ms Waithera called for proper training on financial management, how to access public funding and starting businesses to help the convicted women bring a positive impact to society once their term was over.

She says inmates sit for Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination and plans are afoot to start a secondary section for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) candidates.

“We want partners to support the facility and start a bakery for the inmates to learn how to make bread and snacks,” Waithera says.

Meanwhile, the institution offers different ranges of skills and knowledge, such as hairdressing, basket weaving, and knitting, as they nurture young talents passionate about singing and modelling, even though there is still a need to offer a diverse and broadened skill range.

The institution offers chess board games as a rehabilitation program, seeking to help the women reduce stress levels and sharpen their problem-solving skills to bring out their best form before being released back to the community.

By running different programs, Kisii Women’s Prisons was well assured that re-integrating its convicts back to their usual setting was more than a gift as they were ready to work and earn a living, walking out as fully reformed women.

Representing the Judiciary, Justice Jerusa Obina observed the struggles women go through to achieve gender equality.

She proudly gave the judicial commitment to protecting the lives of women, children, and the marginalised, with a keen eye on women in prison, especially those with children under the age of six months.

“Women are homemakers. We give non-custodial sentences in deserving cases,” Obina says.

Accompanied by his Resident Magistrate, Carolyne Rono and Court Administrator, Mark Onsongo, the duo noted that the several Kenyan courts were lenient when it comes to the rights of pregnant women and breasting mothers, and in most cases served shorter jail terms.

“We cannot imprison a pregnant woman for long unless it is essential and that could be an exception and not the rule,” Obina notes.

Ms Rono praised concerted efforts by stakeholders to empower inmates and urged them to be law-abiding and use the skills they had acquired to improve their lives.

Kisii Women Prisons staff setting the mood during the IWD at their facility. PHOTO/Our Reporter, Scholar Media Africa.

Representing the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (ODPP), Henry Koima, advised that the women accused of different crimes should pursue bargaining and agree as a means to speed up the prosecution process and serve lesser jail terms.

“Those accused of murder can plead for lesser charges of manslaughter which has a lesser jail term. It is the best way to end the case quickly,” Koima added.

He informed the inmates to have hope and confidence, noting that the ODPP was working on ways to sensitize members of the public to embrace different methods of conflict resolution.

Chess for inmates

The celebration comes at the backdrop of the 2022 inaugural launch of the Chess Federation program at the same institution, an initiative that aims to improve the quality of life of the inmates.

Through the Chess-in-Schools Chairperson, Safina Kenyando, the program assured the celebrants that they were in the process of training prisoners and organizing international competitions despite being convicted.

“Chess is a tool to help people learn problem-solving skills, patience, humility and enables players to make correct decisions,” Kenyando stated.

The official says research has shown a child who plays Chess improves skills in Maths, adding, it enhances mental health and enables players stay focused.

The chess program was established to prepare inmates for a smooth integration into society, and build self-esteem and morale, as the Chess Kenya Federation donated up to 10 Chess boards to train and a trophy to enable the female inmates to compete annually.

“We had a Chess tournament and winners were awarded a trophy, medals and Certificates for recognition and participation,” Kenyando said.

Gender and Special Needs Secretary, Roda Olisa, and Chess Kenya Vice President, Andrew Owiti, confirmed the organization’s commitment to improving the lives of the inmates.

Ms Olisa challenged the women who leave the facility to spread further the chess knowledge and skills learnt during their terms.

She said Chess Kenya has a program of Trainers of Trainers (TOTs) noting, women who leave prison will have a chance to train others in Chess to improve their lives and eke a living.

Government intervention

Partnering with the national government through the Kisii County National Government Affirmative Action Fund, Kisii NGAAF Manager, Justin Siocha disclosed that they had already donated five Chess boards to aid train the inmates.

Donya Charity Mission team entertaining guests and inmates during the event. PHOTO/Our Reporter, Scholar Media Africa.

Representing the Kisii Woman Representative, Dorice Donya Aburi, Mr. Siocha further posed a challenge to the inmates to form groups to access funds to boost their activities, airing the Woman Rep’s commitment to financially support the facility set up a bakery.

Edna Kwamboka, nominated Member of Kisii County Assembly noted women play a significant role in making positive change and challenged men to celebrate and support them as pillars of the family.

Ms Edna Kwamboka, nominated Member of Kisii County Assembly speaking during the event. PHOTO/Our Reporter, Scholar Media Africa.

The MCA said women are making inroads in areas perceived to be male dominated especially in political leadership and in the corporate world, and challenged them to fight for their space in all sectors.

“Today, we want to appreciate women who dared to break the yoke of male chauvinism to go after elective and top posts in organizations,” Kwamboka said.

Media and stakeholders

As the celebrations come to a close, Scholar Media Africa Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Elijah Nyaanga challenged community members to embrace inmates once they have left Correctional Facilities and offer them the required support.

Mr. Nyaanga noted that the ex-convicts once released possessed skills which they could use to start businesses and generate income and thus the wrong perception linked to them should be a bygone once their terms are over.

“The inmates have reformed and have positive stories to tell on their journey to success which should be told through the media.  Scholar Media Africa will carry such success stories,” Nyaanga noted, adding that positive stories have an impact.

An elderly inmate showing her modeling prowess during the event. PHOTO/Our Reporter, Scholar Media Africa.

Eunice Mogaka, Kisii Teaching and Referral Hospital (KTRH)’s in charge of the Beyond Zero campaign called for a free screening for female inmates, especially on breast and cervical cancer.

Ms Mogaka challenged the inmates and women at large who have not been tested to do so to know their status so that those affected get treated intime.

“We have placed those who tested positive on treatment and urge those who have not been tested to do so,” she advised.

KMTC Principal, Daniel Nyakundi challenged Kenyans to avoid situations which will cause them depression, force them to commit crime and regret.

He said uncontrolled stress and depression due to loss of a relative, an important thing or unmet goals was dangerous, adding, they triggered anger and commission of crimes.

“Avoid environment which will lead you to stress and depression. Stay with happy people and control your emotions,” Nyakundi told the inmates.

The Principal noted mental illness affects other parts of the body, noting research has shown that most diseases are related to the status of mental health.

Lillian Jumba from Fida Kenya said the organization has a virtual justice Centre at the Prison to enable the inmates hear their cases virtually, noting, they started it during the Covid-19 era.

She said the centre has helped inmates attend their cases virtually and other court processes, and aided expedite them unlike before when they were supposed to attend courts.

Alice Nyarangi from the Gusii Mental Awareness civil society emphasized the need for stress management among the inmates.

Through her organization they offer guidance and counseling to the inmates to reduce their stress levels and keep them busy from overthinking.

“Members of the Gusii community have a problem of anxiety. Take care of your mind. Do not overthink or overdo things,” she said.

Dr. Magdalene Gesare, an Expert in Gender and Development Studies challenged community members to shun tormenting reformed and freed inmates.

Dr. Magdalene Gesare (in specs) embracing an inmate who won the Chess competitions. PHOTO/Our Reporter, Scholar Media Africa.

She said anybody can break the law and be jailed, noting, it was wrong for community members to discriminate against them, stressing, they need support.

“We have criminals out here who have not been arrested. Anybody can commit a crime, be arrested and serve a jail term like the inmates. All of of us are potential victims,” Dr Gesare said.

He urged community members to re-integrate them and give them a chance to settle, work and care for their families.

Jairus Kibagendi, a Million Hearts civil Society Organization officer said that women inmates were forgotten and challenged community members to embrace and support them.

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The event’s partners include; Donya Charity Mission, Chess Kenya, Rotary Club Kisii Central, Scholar Media Africa, Minto Foundation,  a Million Heart, Cooperative Bank, Equity Bank, Platinum, Gusii Mental Association, Kenya Medical Training College (KMTC), Judiciary, South West Kenya Law Society of Kenya (LSK), ODPP,  Beauty Tower, Fida Kenya among others.

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