Kenya's Forgotten

Posted: 18 March 2014

Blog from Sam Moodey

I remember the day I was arrested like it was only yesterday.

I had spent the afternoon at my friend Robert's house talking about our business idea. We had been saving up for a long time and were hoping to start selling some clothes at the local market. We were both sick of our jobs as garbage collectors.

We were walking back from Robert's when two policemen approached us and asked us what we

were doing. They started harassing us and asking lots of questions. Then they searched us and found the money we had saved. They took it all and started beating us up and calling us thieves.

I don't understand why they arrested me. I don't really know what offence I've been charged with either. I briefly saw the charge sheet and it said something about me being in possession of a knife-that's not even true! I don't have a copy of it because I can't afford the photocopying fee. It's not fair.

They took me and Robert to the police station, where we spent 3 days. Somebody told me after that you're only supposed to spend 24 hours in the station before going to court. It seems like the police here don't abide by any rules here but their own. They even took the money we had saved and kept it for themselves! It's not fair.

I was so scared.

We went to court for the plea-taking. I'd never been in a court room before. It was all so confusing and scary. There were lots of lawyers in fancy suits and I didn't know what to do or say when my matter came up. I was given a cash bail of 20,000Kshs. I come from a poor family and even with their help, there's no way I could afford that! I don't know what I will do when the hearing comes up-I haven't even finished school yet. I wish I could afford a lawyer. It's not fair.

That was 5 months ago.

I'm still in prison. It's horrible here. We eat the same food 3 times a day. 120 of us sleep in a room built for 50. There are no beds either, just one dirty blanket each. I seem to go to court every couple of weeks but then nothing happens and I come back here. I think the state prosecutor keeps on delaying the matter but I'm not sure why. It's okay for him, he's not the one stuck here! It's not fair.


I try to remain hopeful in prison. Every day, I pray and read the Bible. For some strange reason, I know that He is in control of this situation. There's a library here too. I've been trying to read and study a lot. If I get out of here, I want to go back to school and maybe one day, even do a degree in Business.

prison bible

So many others in this prison have a similar story to me. How is it possible that so many of us can be arrested and imprisoned without doing anything wrong? The policemen, the judge, the prison guards- none of them care. It's just not fair.

Moses' story is one of many*. This is the harsh reality in Kenya, and many parts of Africa. As people in the UK fret about public sector cuts, potholes and Peter Andre, Kenyans are daily being put into prison for crimes they haven't committed.

And to make matters worse, access to justice is very limited. Across the world, having a lawyer is the norm. In Kenya, it is a luxury reserved for the elite. Access to justice is theoretically enshrined in the 2010 Constitution, but the reality is so different. The majority of Kenyan prisoners, many of whom are illiterate and speak only little English, have no hope against the full weight and experience of a state prosecutor.

This is why CLEAR have begun a series of legal education workshops across prisons in Nairobi in 2014. The aim is to equip those most vulnerable with a basic legal knowledge of criminal procedure in order to mount a respectable defence, understand their case, and essentially be their own lawyer. We spend a morning taking them through what to do and say in court: how to cross-examine, how to mitigate, and how to make the most of certain provisions in the Criminal Procedure Code that may help them to get released/acquitted.

The first workshop took place a few weeks ago at Industrial Area prison, addressing 40 juveniles. Similarly last week, we addressed over 100 new remandees. Today we reached out to 200. Next week we will be extending the programme to all the prisons across Nairobi. On each occasion, we had to stay way beyond our allotted time to answer all the questions. People scribbled notes on arms, legs and bibles. For those facing capital charges, what they learn could be the difference between the death penalty and freedom.

Kenya may have forgotten about people like Robert and Moses, but CLEAR hasn't.

*(Although the story is fictitious, it is based on cases CLEAR regularly encounters. Real names not used.)