Dickson Munene and Hamisi Mzari - 2019 Law Graduates
Throughout this year we have shared the stories of every one of our 16 Kenyan law graduates. Each of them have completed their studies with the University of London, as part of our Justice Changemaker Programme. This October APP will celebrate with them, and our wider changemaker community, at a Graduation Ceremony in the grounds of Kamiti Maximum Security Prison, Nairobi.
Our final feature focuses on two graduating students - Dickson Munene and Hamisi Mzari - who completed their studies this year. Their stories, whilst very different, share the same commitment: to use their legal education to bring about change within the criminal justice system.
Dickson Munene has been at Kamiti Maximum Prison for nearly 11 years. During that time Munene has completed his Bachelor of Law degree [LLB] with the University of London. He’s also attained a Masters degree in Entrepreneurship, become a Certified Information Communication Technologist and is pursuing his doctorate degree in Entrepreneurship. His colleagues describe him as someone who is intelligent and ambitious.
At the age of 24, Munene was already an Inspector of Police. In his line of duty, he explains, people would ask him legal questions but all he knew was the penal code and no legal arguments. Therefore, when the opportunity to study law was presented to him, he took this as an opportunity that would enable him to acquire legal knowledge in order to provide people with efficient answers, despite being behind bars. For Munene, studying law has made him realise his potential, changing his value system. “I needed a professional mindset. I needed something that would help me escape the reality of prison.”
Becoming a Law Student and Paralegal
Munene is one of 16 Kenyan students - inmates and prisons staff - who have graduated with law degrees from the University of London since 2017.Of all his achievements, Munene rates acquiring his law degree as the most precious of all to him.
‘’I used to see the law as something that is not comprehensible. Now I know what it entails. Now I understand the principles. I can tell the difference between a good judgement and a poorly made judgement. I understand human rights,” Munene.
APP also trains prisoners and prison staff as paralegals, who provide legal advice and support to those around them. Many of those studying law, also serve as paralegals. To date, Munene’s most memorable case as a paralegal is one where he helped an 18 year old boy. The boy had been working as a gardener. He had made an agreement with his employer that he would collect his payment at the end of the year when he would be ready to travel back home. Unfortunately, he was arrested soon after this with claims that he had defiled his employer’s daughter. Following a trial, the 18 year old was sentenced to life imprisonment. When he came across Munene, in prison, Munene assisted him in his appeal. The court found that he had been wrongfully convicted and he was released.
Life and Family
Even though Munene has achieved much whilst in prison, being apart from his family has been far from easy. His daughter who was 4 years old, when he was arrested, and is now a 15 year old. However, the support from his wife and constant communication has helped in maintaining their relationship.
Despite the fact that Munene is currently serving a life sentence, he remains hopeful that one day he will be out of prison. And when this happens, he hopes to practice law, to challenge the policies that affect the criminal justice system.
“I hope that one day, I will become a member of the Law Society of Kenya. I hate solving the same problem twice. The problem in the criminal justice system is the system in itself, addressing policies will save time and in return help many people,” Munene.
In his free time, Munene will be found playing chess, a game he says could easily be equated to the challenges of life. But his approach to life is more philosophical, “Happiness comes from within, happiness comes from satisfaction. If you set achievable goals and manage your expectations, then you will be happy.”
One of the unique aspects of APP’s work is the collaboration between prisoners and prison staff, and our legal team, who are sometimes in the same class, studying the same subjects.
Hamisi Mzari is among the legal team in Kenya, and another 2019 Law Graduate from the University of London, and our Justice Changemaker Programme. We asked him about his work with APP and his experience of the justice system:
How long have you been working with APP?
Five years. I started as a volunteer in September 2014 and was employed as an Administration Assistant three months later. AS a result of my studies, I am now a Legal Aid Officer.
What interested you to volunteer with APP?
I had been volunteering with another organization, but at the time it did not offer a legal aid component in its programmes. APP provided the ideal concept I was looking for. It was an opportunity to work with inmates in matters related to their court cases.
What motivated you to study law?
The suffering of many young men, women and children at the hands of the law and their lack of understanding. Many have committed petty offences and others are innocent but the lack of representation in court and legal knowledge has led them to languish in prison. I wanted to play a part in ending that injustice. I too was once a victim of injustice. Without due process, I was dismissed from my job and ended up in conflict with the law.
What was your experience studying law alongside performing your duties as an APP employee?
Studying the law alongside performing my duties and raising a young family was challenging. APP was in its formative years and I had to be a jack-of-all-trades. I had administrative, finance and UoL administrator responsibilities. I generally oversaw almost all operations in the Kenya office. It was not easy. I often missed classes and had to study late at night, which was also not easy with a young family and having to wake up early to report to work. However, I was not discouraged. I drew a lot of strength from knowing that what I was doing was impacting inmates positively. I knew that through me they saw that with effort and determination, one could rise from the ashes like the proverbial phoenix.
What impact has studying law had on you or your family?
My family has renewed hope in me and they are positive about a brighter future. They love the fact that I am able to assist people who had or are facing injustice as I did. For me, studying law has given me a renewed purpose in life.
How do you intend to use your LLB degree?
I am a believer of equity, justice and making society a better place. I draw a lot of satisfaction when I am of help to someone. I believe the LLB degree gives me an avenue to make this world a better place, albeit in a small way. I want to study and become an Advocate of the High Court and eventually be in a position to influence policy in this country. I would wish to be in Parliament and make or amend laws that improve our society.
Do you have anything to add?
I want to take this opportunity to thank APP for giving me this wonderful opportunity to study the law and use the same to bring hope to inmates in prisons. I believe every one of us has that ability to change if given a second chance. We are all sinners and saints, but let us remember that, “There is no sinner without a future and there is no saint without a past”. Let’s make prisons a place where sinners can become saints.
Become a Changemaker!
With more than 50 students in Kenya and Uganda this year, and more than 250 paralegals providing legal support and services in almost 40 prisons, our community of changemakers is growing. Find out how you could join our work, so that we can do even more?