By their nature, prisons interject distance between people. They represent a departure from the outside world. Separation from friends, family, and a life once known.
Over the past year, many of us might be able to relate to that feeling of separation. Continuous social distancing measures have meant we haven’t been able to be in the same room as our loved ones, let alone give them a comforting hug.
For people in prison, visits from family used to offer a moment of reassurance. Connection with the outside world. But since March 2020 the movement of people in Kenya has been restricted to combat Covid-19. Visitations were paused. Isolating many from those they love, until recently.
Justice Defenders has worked with Naivasha Medium Prison in Kenya to reconnect families using technology.
"We saw that the abrupt stop to prison visits meant our community was missing out on the love and support of the people closest to them, during a time they needed it most.” Our Kenya Country Director Miriam Wachira explains.
“From day one of the pandemic, we responded to the immediate needs within prisons. We provided laptops and internet access to our paralegals to ensure legal training could continue and prisoners can attend their court hearings virtually.
“Our slogan during the first virtual paralegal training for inmates and prison officers was: ‘We need to behave abnormally’. And that’s what we’ve continued to do. We’ve repurposed the use of our technology, and since April 2021 we’ve enabled families to reunite online.”
What started out as a digital justice solution has also evolved as a means of tackling social isolation and keeping families connected.
Joseph Lenana, one of our paralegals at Naivasha Medium Prison, recently caught up with his brother James Thuita. “Virtual communication has created a better non-verbal understanding, especially when I communicate with my family and friends outside the prison,” James explains.
“They really enjoy it. We communicate with almost everybody, parents, sisters, cousins and friends. Also it is less costly. They don’t have to spend 1,000 Kenyan Shillings to travel all the way to come and see me here in prison.
“I thank the Justice Defenders family for their continued support, to make sure that I still communicate with the outside world; even if they seem to be far from me. That really makes my stay here easy. It is encouraging, even emotionally. I feel I still have a chance.”
Since the start of the virtual visitations, Prison Social Welfare Officer Ms Wambui has noticed a renewed sense of hope among paralegals. “They are glad they can communicate with their relatives,” she explains.
With many more virtual visitations booked, we hope more people in prison can feel the support of their families.