Jane's story: From death row, to paralegal officer


Jane's story: From death row, to paralegal officer

Jane Manyonge

Each day, women across the world work to transform the lives of their communities. We celebrate their bravery, strength and resilience. 

Meet Jane Manyonge, one of our trained paralegals in Langata Women's Prison in Kenya. Alongside 25 other paralegals (19 inmates and six prison officers), Jane provides free legal services to her fellow inmates, ensuring they understand the charges against them and their right to a fair trial. With a population of 561 women prisoners and 27 children, the majority of whom lack access to a lawyer, Jane's work is crucial.

Watch Jane's interview on the Amanpour show on CNN International.

“My name is Jane Manyonge. I am 52 years old. Born and bred in Western Kenya. I am the first born with six siblings. A mother of a 20-year-old son named after Denzel Washington – the actor. A teacher by profession, I had taught for 13 years when the ugly incident that changed the course of my life occurred.

“In 2013, I was charged with murder. The offence I never dreamed of committing – not in a million years. A normal quarrel of a married couple turned tragic.

“In prison, most of us women are here because of domestic violence. After several years, you break down, you think that you are defending yourself only to find that you have broken the law and you are in prison.

“The four years I was on trial was the darkest hour of my life. In 2017, I was convicted and sentenced to death. I was devastated. I lost all hope upon admission to Langata Women's Maximum Security Prison.

“After a month in incarceration, I was warmly welcomed at the legal office within the prison. They were teaching the paralegals how to defend themselves in court and how to gain self-esteem. I said: "This is the place for me."

“Thereafter, I was recruited as a paralegal by Justice Defenders.”

“I was taught skills that empowered me to serve my fellow inmates in legal matters including drafting appeals, reviews and petitions – the work I do passionately. Some have had their sentences reduced or acquitted.

“In 2019, I filed an appeal, at the court of appeal and on 8 May 2020, my death sentence was substituted with a 20-year sentence. I’m left with a nine-year term. Nonetheless, I have applied for a review at the high court.

“Serving the defenceless to access justice is a noble onus.”

“Right now, I'm reflecting on my life and learning so much from Justice Defenders, so that when I leave this place - of course, I won't be here forever, maybe tomorrow, maybe next year - I'm ready.”

Support more defenders of the defenceless, like Jane. Because everyone deserves a chance to be heard.