One of my favourite things to do when I meet an inmate for the first time is to ask: “What is your story?” Asking that question in a jail setting usually results in a non-trusting glare from the inmate.
However, when I further define the question by letting the inmate know that he can tell me about his family, his hobbies, what occupies him in prison, he thenrealises that I am a friend and not particularly interested in knowing why he was detained. It is amazing how the inmate opens up and the subsequent stories he tells.
Over time, inmates will share the pain that they have endured, their shattered dreams and, maybe once in a while, something that gives them joy. As I listen to each story, I try to offer encouragement and motivation.
Some stories bring tears. I believe that most of these guys want to be happy and do the right thing. When I see an inmates experience his “nastiest” moment and know they are ready to turn their life around and give back to the community, it does not get much better than that.
Inmates of Luzira Upper Prison during a tailoring class
Fred Ndorere’s story will bear me witness. The 50-year-old father of two was sentenced to death for aggravated robbery in 1999 and was later referred to the condemned section for inmates sentenced to death.
For 19 years, he waited for the hangman to say: “Let’s go,” but this did not happen. Instead of sinking in despair, he chose to become a teacher and teach his fellow prisoners.
He realised that only 10% of the condemned inmates had completed O’level at that time.
Ndorere then proposed to the Commissioner General of Prisons, Dr Johnson Byabashaija, to set up a school in prison. His proposal was accepted. The school was established in 2000 and the pioneer candidates sat for their Primary Leaving Examinations later that year.
“I started teaching when I was still in the condemned section. Most inmates were not educated, which made me think that there was a correlation between crime and lack of education,” Ndorere says.
On June 13, 2005, Ndorere’s sentence was commuted to 20 years after Susan Kigula and 417 other death row inmates petitioned the Constitutional Court against the death penalty.
Ndorere, now left with four years to complete his sentence, is profoundly proud of his pioneer students. He says that some of them have completed a diploma in small scale business management and entrepreneurship offered byMakerere University Business School (MUBS) in the prisons.
“Despite the challenges we encounter as inmates, it gives me a lot of joy and pleasure to see that most of my pioneer students have completed a diploma. Even those who left prison are now employed, having attained education and acquired skills while in jail,” Ndorere says proudly.