#6 Life Bloom and Prisons

Life Bloom and Prisons

Margo,

As you encounter the two women released from prison on Wednesday, I wish to share just abit of our history with Naivasha Prisons (am sure you know bits and pieces, and you have visited that place quite often, but I need to share this.

Way back in 2006, when we made our maiden entry to prison to visit the women prisoners (I had never known there was a women’s wing until then), what we desired to do was offer counselling and “rays of hope”.

Then it occurred to us (thanks for the staff who shared many details), that most of the women were jail birds, small little offences, most of them related to “negligence” of children, or “sourcing for their children upkeep” in the wrong ways, or the social push to be married that often push women harming their “husbands’ or their “husbands adulterous partners”.

Creativity….innovations….how could we offer a more comprehensive program which prepared the women for life after prison more appropriately and was also deter them from coming back to prison?

Thats where you found us.

We engaged in a campaign within Naivasha and beyond. We called upon our women friends to visit the prison with us, and to bring with them any item that could help set up a hairdressing unit. We got more than 200 packets of weaves, we got blow driers, combs, hair rollers, cutex…….most of those who donated are teachers within Naivasha town, and business women. yes, I got my 4 plastic chairs which I valued very from my house. The prisons administration fund-raised to get iron sheets and timber and the male prisoners put together an iron sheet walled room.
A salon was born. Janet, who you will meet and interview this afternoon, is a beneficiary of that project. And lo and behold, you should see the corn-rows the women in prison create on each others heads…! Amazingly creative.

Then we begun to source for books, exercise books, chalks, and a “black board” was created in that open space….and literacy lessons begun. This year, the prison will present the first candidate for the KCPE (Class 8) examination. You need to meet this young girl (I guess she is about 20 years) imprisoned for all the wrong reasons….but true she broke the law. She is a beauty and a Spirit!

And then there were children….children below 4 years of age finding themselves in these surrounding because of their mothers’ mistakes. On our last visit this Wednesday, there were 20 of them! Children! Many people have brought in gifts and toys and love and hope…and all.You, Heather, Gemma etc have all been there through Life Bloom, left your mark. Mukami’s Nairobi group have been there more than once. And of course celebrating the International Women’s day in 2011 and this year with more than 40 students from St Pauls University of Nairobi, a group of Women Pastors and two of their professors, isnt a small thing! Love, hope healing name it……all flooding through those barricaded gates at the prison, defying all odds and the flow can still be felt thousands of miles away….

Then there is the Water and Sanitation project. We received our first training in Uganda through Global Women Water Initiative. Our first stop was the prisons. Susan, Wanjiru and Phiona took this project to Prisons with a thud! And guess what? They now purify their own drinking water using the Bio Sand Filters.

One Wednesday every month, Trizer visits the prison for counselling and to receive updates on new arrivals or those released, majority of who join our program for purposes of integration into the community and their own.

As Life Bloom and her partners get to the conference in Sept, and the commissioning of the OSC, the women who have had experiences in prison will be a key target. Prisons administration whispered to me that they wouldnt be able to sponsor Janet or any other ex-prisoner to the conference. And I thought, maybe by telling her story, someone might want sponsor her and a few other of our women who have been in and out of prison. We are targeting sponsorship for at least twenty of the women, (now I am smiling because reflectively, I think more than 80% of our women have been through prison). Do you remember what I shared a few years back, a remark by Mr Patrick Mwenda, the Officer in Charge of the Naivasha Maximum Prison? He said to me: “Catherine, if you dont see one of your women for some time, always make sure that you check with the prison, that is most probably where they are”. And he was right! Ha ha !

Dear, I think a Spirit has got hold of me…..and I can write about this forever…because it is just flowing…flowing…and flowing.

Meeting Janet on Wednesday, the smiles, the hope,,,,,the beauty I experienced in her presence has driven me to this. Amazing that we met at the barricaded gate when they were just about to leave, we wouldnt have met if we had tad taken one more minute on our way.

Margo, its is possible, women can still “recover” and sustain their human face in the midst of great adversity…like imprisonment. Tell the story!

Love and blessings.

Next time I read emails is Sunday.

Off I go to the village till Sunday.

-Catherine Mumbi Wanjohi

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