Back to School for Two of our Hardworking Prison Officers
Both prisoners and prison staff are part of our community at APP and they are often sat in the same classroom studying law together. This year two Kenyan Prison Officers - Winfred Kamene and Dennis Mungo - have graduated from the University of London with their Bachelor of Law degrees [LLB] as part of our Justice Changemaker Programme. They will celebrate alongside the prisoners they serve, as we join with all 16 students for our Graduation Ceremony on October 31st.
Winfred Kamene - Prison Officer
Winnie has been working as a prison officer at Lang’ata women’s prison for over 10 years. Though petite, quiet and gentle, Winnie has a resolution and strength of character about her that many would find enviable. She comes across as a woman who has dealt with a lot, without complaint, and who tackles everything that comes her way with strength and independence.
Lang’ata is the largest women’s prison in Kenya, hosting all categories of offenders. The women there struggle with detachment from the world and separation from their families, experiencing loneliness, homesickness and boredom. Perhaps it’s because of this that Winnie is hugely passionate about making Lang’ata, and the prison system in general, a fairer, more productive place.
Become a Law Student
Alongside her full time job as a prison officer, raising two children and managing a home, Winnie began studying law via the University of London (UOL) distance learning programme, as part of APP’s Justice Changemaker Programme. Winnie joined the programme so as to empower herself and the women she cares for. This summer she was one of 5 Kenyan students to graduate with a Bachelor of Law degree [LLB].
Providing Legal Services
APP started its work in Kenya at Kamiti Maximum Security Prison in 2011, equipping staff members and prisoners to work alongside each other as trained paralegals. There was an overwhelmingly positive response to this and APP started a similar programme at Lang’ata Women’s Prisons in 2015. Recently APP opened a Legal Aid Clinic in Lang’ata staffed by team members, prisoners and prison officers who have all trained to provide legal services.
Winfred spoke about the potential impact of the programme in an interview with The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, “ We were nervous but excited to see what we could achieve. We knew that so many people were in prison at Lang’ata who either were innocent or were serving sentences that did not accurately reflect what they had done. All of us wanted to do something about this – and we had seen the success of the paralegals at Kamiti prison. Finally – it was our turn!”
Despite her professionalism, it is easy to see how much Winnie cares about the women in her care. She speaks candidly about the injustices that she regularly witnesses, and whilst she has seen significant progress and change, she admits that the prison service in Kenya has a long way to go, and that most of the women she works with have been poorly represented and experience many injustices. Over the years the overcrowding of Lang’ata prison has been reduced, making it much easier for the staff to support the inmates properly. However, Winnie points out that whilst their resources and training are limited, there will always be a real challenge when it comes to taking Kenyan prisons to where most staff would like them to be.
In 2018 Winfred qualified for selection on APP’s leadership programme - the Justice Changemaker Journey. The programme has been running since 2014 with support from the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission and Clifford Chance. Last year six Kenyan prison leaders spent 4 months in the UK on secondment, visiting HM Prisons and meeting justice officials and penal reform advocates.
“Attending the Secondment programme has made me change my view of penal institutions and incarceration in general. I now have a wider view from a first world country’s perspective, and realised just how different certain aspects are from our practices in Kenya.”
With the knowledge she has gained from her training, Winnie is able to offer the women in her care the legal advice they so often never receive, advising them during their trial and also in their appeals for those already serving sentences. Winnie’s commitment to creating change from inside Lang’ata’s walls is inspiring.
In the long term, she would love to become a practising lawyer, and to be able to address the challenge of the many women entering prison unjustly in the first place.
Dennis Mungo - Human Rights Officer
For nine years now, Dennis Mungo has been working with the Kenya Prisons Service (KPS). Currently, He is working as a Human Rights Officer at the Kenya Prisons Headquarters. In 2014, Dennis was in the first cohort of officers selected for APP’s Changemaker Journey secondment programme in the UK. Since then he has been studying law with the University of London and this year graduated with his Bachelor of Law degree [LLB].
What motivated you to study law?
I became engaged in a more relational position within KPS trying to promote and advocate for human rights through the lens of international standards (primarily the Nelson Mandela Rules). I grew extremely passionate about my new role especially the possibility of being one of the change-agents and creating a positive impact for the Prison Service and ultimately the staff and inmates. My motivation to study law stems from the desire to bridge my experience and enhance my professional capacity in doing what I do best. The opportunity to study law through such a prestigious university and with support from APP couldn’t have come at a better time. I feel empowered with a new voice, enthusiasm and zeal to pursue justice, human rights and legal empowerment.
What was your experience studying law alongside performing your duties as a prison officer?
I work in a fairly busy office and balancing the two was quite challenging. Attending weekday classes when you should be at work was not easy. It requires understanding from your superiors, hard work and lots of commitment and dedication. The upside of it, especially for someone like myself working at headquarters, is meeting and interacting with fellow staff and prisoners which gives you a sense of purpose of why you are studying law: to be a powerful voice to the voiceless!
What impact has studying law had on you and your family?
It has been an awakening experience. I had to sacrifice time with my family to indulge in books. The experience taught me that the human spirit can achieve what it sets out to achieve with passion and commitment. The support from my family and friends has been tremendous and I certainly couldn’t do this without them.
How do you intend to use your LLB degree?
I intend to help the Prison Service with legal education for the prisoners and hopefully grow career-wise. It is within my sights to continue pursuing legal my studies with the desire to finally become an advocate. But I’ll take one step at a time, celebrate my current achievements as I look into what the future holds.