As prison doors opened to the outside world, Joseph Mburu, an inmate at the Nairobi Remand and Allocation Prison, sat all alone on a bench. He stared at the gate looking at everyone who entered the prison keenly.
Mburu was eagerly awaiting the arrival of his family members who were to visit him on this special occasion in prison.
“I am hoping to see my family but mostly my little princess.
The thought of her has kept me going to this day and seeing her will give me the strength I need through my case,” says Mburu, his eyes still focused on the entrance.
Inside the prison, the inmates were excited as they hoped their dear ones to pay them a visit on this special day.
Outside the premises, security check is in progress. Visitors are being frisked to ensure nothing unwanted gets in. The queues are long but patience is written on everyone’s face.
“I came here at around 7.30 am because I wanted to be among the first so that I can spend more time with my brother. I come to see him often, but today’s visiting is different,” says Kinyua.
On a normal visiting day, the inmate is handcuffed and is in a separate room with the visitor. There is a glass window with wire mesh where the prisoner and his visitor converse.
“Today, unlike the other visiting days, I will get to hug, sit, eat, laugh and spend time with my brother. I will also get to see his second home because I have never been inside a prison,” says Kinyua, whose brother has been in the prison for six years.
Kinyua, like many other visitors, is waiting for the go ahead to meet their loved ones. Inside the prison, the inmates and the officers are all seated, but the mood jovial.one could hear gospel music playing at the background.
After a long wait the families were allowed inside the premises and from a distance one could notice the inmates peeping just to make sure they have located a relative.
The saying so close but so far away was so vivid at this moment when the inmate were told to wait for a while before joining their families. Everyone was looking in the opposite direction just to catch a glance of a loved one.
“I cannot see anyone but I am hopeful someone came to see me. My people were traveling from Mombasa so they might be resting because of the long hours on the road,” Said Sadik, a robbery with violence suspect who has been in for two years, says.
The event kick started with a word of prayer and immediately afterwards the entertainment followed suit.
Prison reforms have really changed this place from a mere, “facility for locking criminals” to the place it is today.
It was a fun filled day, with face painting by an inmate and bouncing castle for the young ones to entertain themselves as the grownups did some catching up.
A few dancing and acrobat groups performed before the guest, apparently all were inmates from Kamiti Maximum Prison and Nairobi Remand and Allocation whom one would have easily mistaken for popular dance groups like Wapi Wapi or even FBI dancers.
With the prison reforms that were introduced by the Narc government in 2002, the Prison Department has experienced a tremendous make-over.
In the past when inmates were brought to the facility, the first assumption was these are criminal, forgetting that everyone is innocent until proven guilty in the court of law and now that that was made clear the relationships between inmates and the officers have changed to the better.
Prison officers led by the Prison Nairobi county commander, Wanini Kireri joined the inmates and their families to a dance. They danced to the rhythm of different type of songs and at some point, they stopped to shake hands and hug.
“Our work is to reform the inmates, and for that to happen we should have a sense of understanding between us. They are human beings like us and they should not be treated any less and that’s why we are trying everything possible to organise a day where they meet and interact with family,” says Mr James Too, the Assistant commissioner and officer in charge of Nairobi Remand and Allocation Prison.
“The day is also important to the children to bond with their loved ones because on a normal visiting day those below 18 years are not allowed inside prison,” says too.
On that day, the inmates also had a change of diet. The normal dieting in prisonisugali, sukuma and rarely meat.But on this day, the prison in conjunction with one of the top hotels in town, ensured the inmates had a taste of food they had long forgotten. They dined on pilau,chapatti,mukimo and even a piece of water melon.
“I am so grateful to the Prison Department for giving us this chance to sit with my son like this. You can see even my granddaughter is so happy playing with her Father,” says Mercy Njoroge a mother to one of the inmate.
“I am happy to be with my husband today, though I come here to visit him everySaturday this is much better because I get to hug him for the first time since he was brought here two years ago,’’ Jackline Wairimu, wife to an inmate.
“I have also brought our daughter to be with her father. She has not seen him for the past two years. I do not know when she will see him again but I am grateful for the chance he has been given to be a father again even if it is just for a few hours”, Wairimu adds, with tears in her eyes.
At the end of it all there was cutting of the cake to celebrate the third anniversary of the annual event in the prison.
When time came for the guests to leave, transportation was offered to the families of the inmate to the city centre.