People Daily

When you’re a prisoner by birth

She was 26 years old and nine months pregnant when she entered Thika Women’s Prison to start her four-year term for manslaughter.

A week into the sentence, Elizabeth Wangari gave birth to a baby boy. Now two, Terrence (not his real name) straddles the space behind the dilapidated prison walls like his home.

A victim of parental incarceration, it is the only home he has ever known. He is serving a prison sentence for a murder he did not commit. He was neither an accomplice nor an accessory.

In prison, Terrence and his mother are united by blood, separated by crime, yet condemned to the same filth that is synonymous with life behind bars.

Poor dwellings

The two share a crowded, dimly lit, poorly-ventilated match box of a room. Catering isn’t exactly baby-focused and Terrence’ body has to make do with his mother’s unreliable milk supply for nutrients.   “I have been here for two years and I have two more to go in this harsh living condition,” Wangari says.

She says the first two weeks after birth were the most harrowing during which the child drastically lost weight to a point of near-hospitalisation.

“My other three children, who live with my mother, have been missing my presence and that of their father who visits them infrequently. It’s unfortunate that my two-year-old is suffering with me for the sins he never committed,” she says.

She singled out poor sanitation, overcrowded rooms, lack of basic needs such as diapers, barely-nutritious and inadequate food supply as her biggest concerns.

Wangari’s case is, however, not unique. Maureen Muugi, another inmate, 27, gave birth six weeks into her two-year sentence. Muugi, a resident of Embu was found guilty of aiding prime suspects in robbing Equity Bank Sh1.7 million late last year.

She said seven suspects, whose whereabouts remain unknown, used her Equity Agency for the crime. “It is the communication I had with them that made me a suspect and I unpredictably found myself here,” she said

More to go

Her child, a victim of circumstances, has now served six months, and has more of the harsh reformatory environment to endure.

She said that her child receives medical attention at Thika Level Five Hospital where they are escorted under heavy guard.

“The pain we go through here is unbearable but we have no option. If the government could consider giving women with children non-custodial sentences, it would be really helpful,” she said.

She said her baby’s father has been checking on them and hopes to reunite upon completion of her jail term.

It is women like these that led sisters Shakinar Wacingah,15, and Natasha Naikena to start Freedomwithinke programme.

Wacingah says children born and living in prison are innocent and do not have to be prisoners even when living in a prison environment.

“They can experience freedom within the walls of a prison by being provided with physical, emotional, spiritual and social support necessary for their wellbeing and grow to be resourceful members of the society,” she said at Thika Women Prison where she, accompanied by her Brookhouse school mates, donated diapers, food stuff, poster alphabets and pillows.

Kindred spirit

They also gave the facility a face-lift by repainting it and donating a 10,000-litre water tank. Her mother, Mary Waceke, regretted that many children born and living in prisons do not enjoy the right to early inculcation of values at their formative ages and rooted for introduction of day care centres in all women prisons.

The officer in charge of Thika Women’s Prison Maryann Njuguna said at least 105 women have been imprisoned at the facility among them 10 mothers and 10 others who are expectant.

She said the money provided for the care of these mothers is not enough to allow daily provision of diapers and other basic care to all the children living at the facility.

“We have been incorporating partners to help us better the living standards of these mothers and their children,” she said.

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