He was once a hawk-eyed prison warder manning the prisons gates at Hindi in Lamu county.
Today, however, the roles have reversed and Joseph Komora, 53, is on the inside, guarded by former colleagues. He is now an inmate, serving life sentence at Shimo La Tewa Maximum Prison in Shanzu, Mombasa.
While still serving as an accomplished prison warder, Komora says he had his stand-by criminal gang which he would activate during his off-duty days and conduct raids on posh estates and hotels in Lamu.
One night in 2004, he had led his gang to Kizingo Hotel in Kipungani, where they executed their usual canny mission with impunity, terrorising tourists and other revellers at the hotel. Oblivious to the gang, they had just exhausted their quota of 40 days.
Komora recalls the fierce exchange of fire with police that ensued that night. When the guns fell silent, he was sprawling in a pool of blood, virtually unconscious.
“I was shot several times in my hands and legs and became immobile…I could not run away so they came for me and they were shocked to realise I was the mastermind behind the raid,” the married father of three recalls. “They handcuffed me and took me away. It was very embarrassing,” he says.
Komora says he was taken to hospital where he was treated and later discharged under tight security of armed police but bullet fragments were left in his body.
“It was 14 years ago but the bullet fragments are still lodged in my body and even now I still go to hospital for check-up,” he says. “I was then taken to court where I was found guilty of robbery with violence, and I was sentenced to life imprisonment.”
The bold scars dotting his hands and legs are perhaps testament to his bitter experience that gave his life story a dramatic switch from a prison warder to a prisoner.
While amidst his fellow inmates at the facility, Komora is easily recognisable as he is allowed to use a walking stick. He is remorseful for his past life of crime which he blames on bad company and greed for money.
“Bad company and greed plunged me into all this. Then, I saw myself as a hero but after what happened, it sunk in me that this was a mistake. I have even wished to go back and apologise to the hotel owners and visitors who I attacked at the hotel but I was told that the visitors had gone back to their country,” he says.
Komora is now among the inmates living with disability at Shimo La Tewa Prison and who believe they have reformed. They are hoping that the relief of the Power of Mercy Advisory Committee will come their way.
Now a born-again Christian, Komora started a group dubbed Crime Sio Poa in the prison which he says imparts skills for gainful employment on the youth among them.