“Being in prison myself, I understand the emotional and mental turmoil one experiences while in prison. I see with eyes that have cried and this truly informs how I serve those in my community.”
Life as a paralegal beyond the prison gates is an honour. To serve my community and gain a better understanding of the law. Some days are longer than others, some are slower than others. Nonetheless, I am glad to do something to help my brothers.
Here is an account of a typical day in my life:
The morning temperatures are high as the sun’s searing heat can be felt just after daybreak.
A bucket serves as improvised seating, as I sit in the common area to catch up with the day’s news chatting with others. Breakfast is served, and before a long day spent in the prison wards, I take my time as I eat the hot porridge. Stodgy and hot, the porridge is a mix of maize meal and millet; a meal courtesy of the prison kitchen.
“Paralegal!” A prison officer summons me. I am required in the office where my duties await.
The case list is read out to notify the clients set to attend court virtually.
Soon, remandees and those who are convicted approach with several inquiries. “Paralegal! I don’t have a court date.”
“Paralegal! I need to speak with the complainant.”
“Paralegal! When will we go through my witness statements?”
I follow up on individual cases by consulting with various clients.
A high population of those in prison are unable to afford legal representation. The work of Justice Defenders paralegals such as myself is critical in ensuring thousands access justice. The free legal services mean hundreds of those in prison can be released and return to society. One day, I too will be free.
At the office, I receive a new client. The man shares the nature of his charges offering background that can help me to gain a better understanding of the case. He could be facing a possible ten-year sentence upon conviction for an offence of threatening to kill. I can see the anxiety on his face, I understand how difficult these trying times are for him. I serve him from a point of personal experience; an understanding that few versed in the law can claim to.
Being in prison myself, I understand the emotional and mental turmoil one experiences while in prison. I see with eyes that have cried and this truly informs how I serve those in my community.
Based on his case, his options are limited to plea bargaining or change of plea. I advise him on the next steps and continue to upskill him on court etiquette. His journey toward justice has been arduous but I encourage him to remain hopeful.
Before he leaves, I update his records on the virtual case management system. I urge him not to get disheartened ahead of his next court date. We will revisit the facts of the case within the week.
Some of my responsibilities also include drafting applications for appeals, reviews, defence submissions and miscellaneous applications going to various law courts. So far, I have had three clients acquitted in the last three months; all of them were facing sexual offences. I also make time to review witness statements with clients in preparation for cross-examination.
As the morning goes on, I visit those in the prison wards. With me is a prison officer, also trained as a paralegal whose presence eases my movement within the prison wards. We work well together; consulting on cases when approached. As a prison warden, he is an unlikely ally however we collaborate together to serve the community.
Many find themselves falsely accused of a crime because they were unable to pay a bribe or protection money. Or face criminal charges due to an addiction or mental health issue that they have been unable to resolve.
Most of those in prison simply cannot afford a just defence. We conduct legal awareness sessions which help educate the population on their rights as well as the services we offer. These sessions steer hundreds to the legal offices seeking legal advice for their cases.
After an hour or so in the wards, I return to the office as the morning buzz slows into the afternoon. I head out for lunch, a much-needed break after a typically busy morning.
After the loss of my mother in 2021, I vowed to promote reform in the treatment of those in prison who become bereaved. Imprisonment disempowers individuals from supporting themselves. And prison removes us from offering and receiving support from our communities.
These days I spend the afternoon carrying out research and writing a bereavement petition outline. The draft draws references from Lesotho, United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, 1957. As I work on the document I receive support from Legal Officer William Okumu. He’s a Justice Defenders’ staff member who is responsible for our prison’s legal office. He offers his perspective on how to best represent the matter.
Though still in its early stages, I find hope in the change it could bring. I was unable to attend my mother’s funeral; if it succeeds the petition could offer many of those in prison the ability to be present for the final rights of their loved ones.
With just thirty minutes before we close the legal office, I begin to wind up my day. A client visits briefly to say goodbye. His hearing led to an acquittal and he awaits release. He will soon have his liberty. The news is a morale booster for me as a paralegal.
I leave the office looking forward to spending some time songwriting. I indulge myself and enjoy the world I can create through song.
As the evening draws near, dinner is served. I get the opportunity to speak with friends and discuss the day’s happenings. We eat, laugh, and enjoy each other’s company. The day has come and gone and there is lots to look forward to tomorrow.
Lights out. This day ends on a high, and tomorrow I wake up to do it all again. Defending justice amongst those on the fringes of justice.