Morris Kaberia - One Year On
On 20th September 2018, Morris Kaberia was released from Kamiti Maximum Prison, in Kenya, after serving 13 years in prison. Less than a year later he was leading a successful legal challenge on the remission of sentences which will ensure the release of others across the country who had been denied remission due to the offences that they had been charged of.
Long Years Behind Bars
Arrested in 2005, he spent 9 long years on remand until his trial in 2013, where he was sentenced, “to the only available sentence in the law, that of death by hanging until certified dead for the offence of Robbery with Violence.” A sentence that was commuted to life by President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2015.
Kaberia had been working in the Kenyan Police Force for 12 years when his career was suddenly brought to a halt. “The memories of the doors locking behind me as I was escorted by prison wardens to my new home are still fresh in my mind.” he recalls. He soon fell into depression and spent his first days there trying to come to terms with what was happening to him. “I was destitute, lonely, discouraged and felt unwanted after having lost all my friends. In 2010, I experienced my most painful moment in prison when I lost my best friend - my father. Even worse, I was unable to attend his burial.”
Gradually, he met some of his current colleagues, Wilson and William, who encouraged him to join the law programme offered by APP. Fellow inmates formed part of the legal team in Kamiti that prepared court documents to help him successfully defend himself. On his second appeal, 13 years after his arrest, the court found that Kaberia’s rights at trial had been violated and ruled against both his sentence and his conviction.
A New Beginning
Today, Kaberia is in his third year pursuing an LLB (Bachelor of Law degree) with the University of London. Since his release he works with APP as Assistant Legal Aid Officer at Machakos Prison.
We asked him how his first year of freedom had been -
I have had a fantastic first year. I have experienced much change in the outside world. I am still trying to catch up with new developments in today's lifestyle. I have enjoyed meeting relatives and friends most of whom I had not seen for over a decade and a half. I have enjoyed my new work environment and new friends too. It's amazing to realize how much I have missed through my incarceration. I am currently laying foundations to kick start my life once more and hope that the future holds more successes for me.
Tell us about your experience of reintegration -
It has been very difficult to reintegrate back into society due to stigma. So many people are not ready to accept us back. People are always looking down on us and assuming that we are criminals for having served time in a maximum prison. It was difficult for me to rent a house, because I did not have a background or reference of an estate I was transferring from. People fear interacting with me, which makes me feel isolated. All in all, I endeavor to show the society the changes I have embraced in my life and my capability to deliver in the community. However, I assume their indifference and try to keep on working hard with the hope that one day they will accept that am a changed person.
How was it to be reunited with your family?
Reuniting with my wife and children was the best moment of my new life. They lovingly embraced me and gave me the support and encouragement to move on with my life. I was lucky to find my family as intact as it was when I left them courtesy of the blessing of my life in the name of my best friend and confidant...my lovely wife.
I experienced euphoria the other day as I took my son to the University of Nairobi. Having not brought up my children like other fathers, I felt so happy to take over the responsibilities of educating my children from my wife who for over a decade struggled to educate them using very minimal resources and working day and night to ensure they get education. Indeed, she had managed to help my son qualify for a course in civil engineering at Nairobi University.
I will never forget what she had to go through during my absence and the resilience amid insults from the public to maintain her cool self and do what she has done for my family instead of running away from home in search of other men who could provide for her at her young age. It's ridiculous that she stood by me and our children unlike many more others in the same situation.
What’s your experience been this year, working as an Assistant Legal Officer at Machakos Main and Women's clinics?
Since joining African Prisons Project as a legal aid officer supervising the Machakos clinics, I have experienced a great relationship from people who are ready to work with me. I am happy that I am doing what I love to do deep down in my heart. I have always harbored the passion to help other people especially those in need. This working environment has given me that opportunity. Helping inmates gives me so much peace. The best feeling is when I look at the eyes of a client I have assisted when they return to report successful outcomes in their case and when they are being released from prison. This makes me feel like crying tears of joy and is one of the most rewarding moments for me. It gives me motivation to continue doing what I do despite the challenges I face while doing my work. It has equally been difficult to balance studying and helping my clients as I cannot do without any of them. God has been merciful to me and I believe I will continue enjoying what I do as a servant of the vulnerable amongst us.
Tell us about the successful legal challenge you lead at the Machakos High Court on the remission of sentences?
The remission case came about after I realized that many prisoners with determinate sentences were being discriminated against through denial of the right to enjoy the benefit of remission of sentences. It followed some research I had done after five clients came to our Machakos Main Prison Legal aid clinic seeking assistance over the benefit of remission of sentence. As a clinic we embarked on further research and made a decision to pursue the matter in court.
We went to court seeking a declaration that all inmates whose sentences had been revised from those of death and life sentence were entitled to remission of sentence just like the other convicts. These sentences had been revised following a Supreme Court decision that declared the mandatory death sentence unconstitutional. It heralded a new group of inmates who were not allowed by our statute to benefit from remission if convicted of sentences which could not be computed e.g. death sentence. We also were seeking a declaration that Section 46 (1) (ii) of the Prisons Act was unconstitutional for being discriminatory and for being applied unequally in violation of Article 27 of our constitution which provided for equality for all before the law.
On 27th August, I went to court and argued this case on behalf of the five petitioners against the state as an intermediary to the court. Fortunately, the petition was successful and the court ordered the commissioner of prisons to give the petitioners and others suffering the same fate, the benefit of remission. Today, dozens or probably hundreds, have gone home as free men and women after serving decades in prison following this decision in all prisons within the country. I am proud that such a small effort could cause all the changes that are now being witnessed in our prisons. That decision has impacted on many long serving inmates including one of APP’s students, Willis Ochieng.
I hope that God will give me the opportunity to help change our criminal justice system by amending and repealing retrogressive laws in my country so as to enable everyone access justice equally, and more so, the poor and the vulnerable.
Become a Changemaker
Morris Kaberia and others have been able to gain access to legal advice and assistance, as well as training and education, because of the commitment of APP’s changemaker community. But there are many behind bars, still awaiting trial, who won’t have that same opportunity and will spend many more years there. How could you support our work and empower others like Morris to provide access to justice for those who need it most?