Monday 4, March 2019. I receive a call from a close friend and fan of this blog. She is an ardent friend of Bungoma Prisons having done several charities at the institution. Her request? To visit the facility and ‘just check on them’.
To cut the story short, the security guards manning the main gate conduct their routine check on our vehicle and allow us in. We stop at the parking lot and allow the wheels to obey our return.
This is Bungoma Prisons in Bungoma County. The site of clean shaved men in black and white stripped attires stationed differently on various cleaning activities and guarded by men in green trousers and jungle green shirts with black berrets welcome you.
At the first glance, you may think this is the only life in here. And even as you keep thinking, another prisons van speeds in, makes a U-turn and reverses to park at the inner entrance to the main prison facility. Six police officers in navy blue shirts jump out in a huff as if they have delivered a fresh heart to prevent it from drying. No! It’s the new inmates jetting in in cuffs to start serving their jail terms.
The look on their faces erases the world of freedom they have enjoyed behind their backs and paints a cloud of darkness ahead of them. A writer like yours sincerely, would want to follow them up and get their side of the story, but not at such a time – prison wardens guard those inmates like jackpots. Toka huko.
Madam leads me to the lower section where we are welcomed by an officer who must have only been born to smile. He undresses his teeth as he shakes our hands. Welcome is the word. Call him Chief Inspector Atanus Mukangua Karanja, officer in charge of Industry section.
My first sight at the fenced section quickly tells me that there’s must be a story to tell, questions to ask, photos to take and a keyboard to hit.
Here, there are close to 56 inmates in the workshop and divided into different sections including welding.
Inspector Mukangula takes me and Dr Evalyne Wamalwa around the workshop. It’s at this point that I discover that she is a regular client of their furnitures.
“I never buy my furniture anywhere else. This is my home,” she boasts as my eyes are attracted to a set of camp chairs displayed outside.
Here, you are treated to a variety of carpentry works including beds, tables and couches.
Inside the show room, a couple of nicely crafted sofa sets, brilliant nest tables and wonderfully innocent beds sit silently whispering to each other in low tones already missing their creators in case they are sold to someone out there as routine.
Bungoma Prisons has a population of one thousand inmates but not all of them love working.
The few that Inspector Mukangula has accommodated start the course at Grade III, then graduate to Grade II and then Grade I. The certificate acquired after three years of the above combination now allows them to enroll for a Diploma in Carpentry.
One of the notable inmate and carpenter here is a 53 year-old Simiyu (not related to this writer though, hehe) serving seven years for manslaughter.
He is serving his third year and a fine carpenter who can design and make any furniture you want.
“My wish after this is to start my own workshop once I’m through with my term. I love this work so much,” Simiyu tells me as he mixes turpentine and those other terms I had no idea they even existed.
Dr Evalyne already has her order being finalised but Inspector Mukangula informs me that they supply furniture to various government and private facilities across the country.
Our conversation is being constantly disrupted by Inspector Mukangula’s incoming calls. I hate interruptions when I’m interviewing my source. He later opens up and tells us that the caller is new client from Mombasa. Imagine.
But do they really make money out of this? “Yes. Yes. Mukangula, also known as Karanja as his third name, nodes his head vigourously as if he has been hired to agree with me.
The Industry section make sales on various weeks. It may not be daily or weekly but they take time to design, make and polish a product before handing over to a customer.
The revenue they get is circulated back to the Government which then releases cash back to the institution for maintenance and purchases of materials.
But do they have any challenges? Again, yes.
Inspector Mukangula, who has served here for seven years explains that though the workshop training is 90 per cent practical, there are inmates who join his camp but very illiterate that they can’t even read a rule measurement and record them. But as a father determine to help his children, he goes an extra mile to teach them some basic mathematics lessons.
So how important is the Industry to the inmates? “Apart from being a rehabilitation centre, we also offer courses to the inmates. This is one way of equiping them for their future once they complete their terms.” Says Inspector Mukangula, now getting used to the many detail questions I shoot.
“When they come out there, please view them as members of the society who have reformed and not as enemies,” he insists.
Under Inspector Mukangula, even prison warders here learn carpentry. An example is Constable Phanweek Mauyo who has completed all the three Grades.
How the officers work together with the inmates leaves a sense of family love here.
So Inspector Mukangula now welcomes the members of the public to support the inmates and feel free to make their purchases at the Prisons where the products are of affordable prices.
We leave the institution with one quote ringing in my mind; a real man falls seven times but still rises again.
For inquiries, you can contact Insp. Atanus Mukangula Karanja via Mobile +254721 765038. Good luck.