(GIN)–A maximum security prison was the scene of an out-of-the-ordinary graduation ceremony in Kenya. Lifer Peter Ouko, surrounded by friends and family, received his diploma in common law from the University of London. Ouko took the course online and now plans to advance to a further law degree.
An inmate at Kamiti prison in Nairobi, Ouko has been in prison for 16 years. He intends to use his new skills to challenge his conviction. A death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 2009. Three years earlier, he had begun to help other inmates voicing their concerns in an initiative he started called Crime Si Poa (Crime is not Good). It drew the attention of an ex-judge, Amos Wako, who asked if he would like to study law. He did.
Rather than “getting mad and losing it” in prison, he said, studying was a way of “keeping it sane and safe for the long haul.”
Held on the grounds of Kamiti’s high security facility, the ceremony was a festive occasion for Ouko, his elderly mother and grown-up daughter. More than 100 attendees were treated to a prison band, dancing and cheers, while prison inmates and high-profile guests relished a giant cake donated by Daniel Mungai, a celebrity chef.
Lorna Ouko said she had always wanted her son, the ninth-born of her 12 children, to go to law school – and that his graduation was “a dream come true”, even if he was behind bars. With the support of the African Prisons Project and the British Council Kenya, he was able to pursue his studies at University of London, which provides degrees by distance learning. The initiative is part of Kenya’s prison reform project that ensures prisoners’ access to education and smooth re-integration to the society upon release.