How Paralegal Training Helped Me Earn My Freedom

Fredrick receives his Paralegal Certificate from Maureen Ngarama from our access to Justice Program.

By Fidel Castro

Picture this…… no space to call your own, no choice on the kind of company to keep, same food, same faces, same routine for 300 days on the trot. Threat and suspicion looms everywhere, love becomes an abstract word, separation from family and friends is real.
This is the kind of experience and feeling Fredrick Odhiambo had to deal with while remanded for 10 months in prison. Stepping out into the streets of Nairobi and tasting freedom for the first time, Fred was awestruck at how quickly things can change. While in prison, he never had the idea that it was going to dawn brightly again.
I was meeting Fred for the first at the Crime Si Poa offices in Ngara, where he had come for debriefing and guidance after leaving the remand prison. He looked jubilant yet anxious, a little bit confused, yet optimistic. The mixed feeling was quite understandable for Fred had lost 10 months of his life for a crime he didn’t commit.

“I never knew I would ever be set free. I had no property to get a bond, neither did I have money to hire a lawyer. I felt crushed and my hope diminished.” Fred shares. “I lost trust with colleagues who threw me to jail for theft that I wasn’t part of. The thought of being innocent would literarily kill me every day. My dreams of joining a school and advancing my career crashed,” lamented Fredrick.

“I had not committed the crime, but because I had no resources to defend myself, I had to spend almost a year in one of the most challenging places on earth. Thanks to the paralegal training I received from Crime Si Poa, I gained legal skills that I used to defend myself in court and earn my freedom.” said Fredrick.

August 7, 2021, is a day Fredrick remembers with a lot of anger and pain. He had scheduled a meeting with the company’s accountant, to receive his wages. It was a day everybody in the workplace looked forward to. Unfortunately for Fred, this day quickly turned dark as he was arrested for allegations of stealing property worth millions of shillings from his employer. He was to spend the next 300 days in bouts of loneliness and many unanswered questions.

“I was just from burying my father when all this happened. I never had time to mourn and heal from the loss. I was innocently thrown into the dungeons and had to deal with both trauma and a situation I never expected. Sometimes life can be unfair, but I never despaired, all along I knew I was innocent and hoped justice will prevail,” said Fredrick.

While in the deep end, Frederick had to motivate himself, by joining various counselling groups and training in the prison, some of which were also run by Crime Si Poa.

This paralegal training, a partnership between Crime Si Poa and the Strathmore University Law Clinic, came in handy for Fred as he was adequately empowered with the requisite knowledge that saw him challenge his case in court and secure his way out of the confined walls of prison.

Being set free and seeking justice for a wrongful conviction was Fred’s main goal. Stepping out of the prison gates on the morning of 29th of July 2022 was healing. “I felt very relieved and offloaded when I stepped out; this was what I thought and dreamt of every single minute while I was locked up, I thank God I am finally here.” Says an elated Fredrick

Frederick Odhiambo represents a fraction of what many young people in Kenya go through on a regular basis. Many are serving sentences they were never supposed to serve. Several people are going through court cases without legal representation.

Clearly, there is much more that needs to be done in the criminal justice system to ensure access to justice for all. Feel free to learn more about our Access to Justice Program and how you can plug in and support.

The Crime Si Poa Access to Justice Program is underwritten by AIG Insurance, a leading global insurance company. AIG is committed to corporate social responsibility and to making a positive influence on the lives of communities. Considering the compelling need for pro-bono legal assistance and in recognition of AIG’s commitment to criminal and justice reform, the AIG Pro-bono program provides free legal services and other support to under-represented communities.

Crime Prevention Through Social Enterprise

By Fidel Castro

Impact is what motivates us all. You do not want to engage in a project that does not create any impact. Crime Si Poa (CSP), through the Social Enterprise Project, has engaged over 200 people in Ongat Rongai, Kajiado County, in various skills that have improved their livelihood. This has consequently, helped them avoid being involved in crime.  

In Ongata Rongai there has been a spate of criminal attacks mostly committed by the youth necessitating an urgent intervention measure to curb the escalation of crime. CSP through the Rongai hub for the last one month has been training in the youth in the art of soap making. 

Fridah Njeri is one of the beneficiaries who have benefited from the soap-making skills attained and have since commercialized to make a living from it. From the proceeds made so far coupled with her other savings, she has managed to open a retail shop located in Rongai at Boone house Gataka Rd. 

“I was inspired by Crime Si Poa facilitators to get into social enterprise. The skills we learnt through extensive training on the art soap making are already impacting us and changing our status in the community,” said Fridah. 

Njeri was not only taken through the art of soap making but also equipped with the relevant business skills. These skills will see her and fellow youth break through the highly competitive market.  

“Thousand tongues are not enough to appreciate Crime Si Poa for equipping me with the skills that I have commercialized now. I hope to grow this business to greater heights and create more opportunities for others,” added Njeri.  

Halima Guyo, Crime Si Poa, Program Officer, Ongata Rongai Hub, expressed her satisfaction in seeing one of the people she trained maximizing on the skills she taught them. 

“I am happy seeing Fridah work out of poverty because of the skills we equipped her with. She is now an owner of a business. Many are also motivated by this, and we hope to see more venture into social enterprise rather than engage in crime,” said Guyo. 

Living in a world where employability is not ascertained, a world shrouded with changing dynamics, it is important to update your skill set so that you remain competitive in the job market and business landscape.

Young People Should Continue to Push for Inclusion in Leadership

By Fidel Castro

Crime Si Poa celebrates young leaders in Kenya as we mark International Youth Day, amidst ongoing vote tallying exercises after the conclusion of the country’s general elections. Youth representation availed during these general elections will help shift the paradigm that has been for years, where the older generation is perceived to “own” the political echelon.

The youth should be empowered, encouraged and supported to occupy more elective positions. Political systems should review their structures to allow youth representation, which is presently not the reality among most African nations. When young people are disenfranchised or disengaged from political processes, a significant portion of the population has little or no voice or influence in decisions that affect group members’ lives.

To make a difference in the longer term, it is essential that young people are engaged in formal political processes and have a say in formulating today’s and tomorrow’s politics. Inclusive political participation is not only a fundamental political and democratic right but also is crucial to building stable and peaceful societies as well as developing policies that respond to the specific needs of younger generations. Young people to be adequately represented in political institutions, processes, and decision-making, and in particular in elections, they must know their rights. Young people should also be given the necessary knowledge and capacity to participate in a meaningful way at all levels. As much as we are having intense debates on the empowerment of women to occupy both elective and appointive positions as buttressed by the Kenyan 2/3 gender rule, we should also see robust, deliberations to bridge the gap that is currently at play vis a vis national governance.

Kenya is a young nation with a fast-growing democracy where great embargos are scattered on the way to realizing this beautiful and inclusive end can be realized. In such an atmosphere where there are obstacles to participating in formal, institutionalized political processes, young people can rapidly feel disempoweredMany tend to believe that their voices are not going to be heard or they will not be taken seriously even if they are heard. This in turn leads to young people being increasingly excluded from taking part in decision-making, or in debates about key socio-economic and political issues. This is despite social equity, justice, environmental protection and cultural diversity demands. This, therefore, cuts short the process of achieving sustainable development goals.

However, throwing in the towel is not the solution, the young generation that forms a larger percentage of the nation’s population, should soldier and maximize the available opportunities to gather the required muscles to break through the web of political exclusion. Nations that we admire today walked through this path and achieved.

Sexual and Gender-Based Violence So Pervasive in Kenya

Have you ever wondered how it feels like to be a girl or a woman in Kenya? Despite exceptional contributions to society, girls and women suffer non-equivalently. Gender and sexual-based violence is a problem that is rampant amongst us. The African culture endorses SGBV and ownership of the female gender. The African cultural nature has also made demands that women be submissive. 

Recently in Kisumu, Crime Si Poa (CSP) team dealt with a case of a 70-year-old retired teacher who was arrested after it was discovered that he has been defiling three 13-year-old girls. Lucy, one of the pupils was groomed and used by the culprit to lure the other two pupils to the house of the culprit where he defiled them.  

The man was caught when one of the pupils did not make it home that night. The worried mother, of the minor, went fetching for her in school the following day, where she found her. After interrogation by the mother and her teacher, the terrified student revealed that Lucy took them to the perpetrator, who defiled them. The matter was reported to the area police station, unfortunately, the culprit could not be detained since he “fell ill” and had been admitted to a hospital. 

As I author this article, the girls are being taken through counselling and the perpetrator is still sadly walking free. Let us face it, reporting SGBV cases is a subject that brings judgment and victimization to the victims. Society has taught us if a woman is assaulted it is their fault.  

The cycle continues, and before we even deal with the first case, another case yet of another 13-year-old girl Mitchelle Wanjeri, a class six pupil at Mwariki Primary School is unveiled, this time in Nakuru County. Wanjeri faced two attempted defilement incidences. In one of the henious incidents, the perpetrator (the alleged neighbour’s husband) tried forced penetration using fingers. 

Despite the matter being reported to the authorities and relevant government officials, no actions have been taken against the perpetrator. Her mother has been unsupportive even after several accounts of being summoned, she has refused to show up and an arrest warrant was issued to her for neglecting parental duties. The mother has since been missing in action prolonging the chance of getting Mitchell the justice deserved. Our efforts to get Mitchelle a rescue centre to protect her from the abusive environment have not bored any fruit.  

Sadly, Mitchelle lacked support documents, which include medical and police reports needed to be able to be admitted to the Clabrin Shelter a rescue centre based in Nakuru. Her mother interfered with previous reports claiming her child is a liar and a prostitute. Just like the other cases mentioned above, this case is still pending and stuck at the police.  

Gender-based violence creates unpredictability in young girls. Women and girls live at the mercy of sexual predators who treat them with disdain and subject them to unspeakable violence. This same society is quick to question even the innocence of children when it comes to the subject of gender-based violence.  

Some women are also partly to blame as they encourage and promote these archaic patriarchal ideologies as in the case of Mitchelle. Women have been degraded, gagged, humiliated, and stripped away of their dignity over time in such a way that they decide to suffer in silence. 

Society does not know how to take responsibility thus we shift the blame to the victims. Perhaps, she seduced the assailant, no, what she wore led to her being raped, she drank too much she deserved it, she is lying she just wants to cause trouble. “If she is beaten, she incited it, if she is raped, she invited it” Gloria Steinem 

For how long is society going to tolerate the way in which our young girls are abused, and their childhoods robbed from them? How long do we always have to wonder how high our girls can fly before the monsters and predators get to them and ruin their lives? 

Victims are always blamed by those who hold power in the community. Powerful perpetrators get to frame the narrative of violence by frustrating any efforts made to fight SGBV.  

It is time to sensitize society on violence against women and change the narrative on violence toward women. As a society, we have lost empathy and the spark that makes us human. We must start seeing the need of valuing and protecting one another. 

Paralegals Graduate with skills to foster Justice at the community level

Over 65 community paralegals in Kisumu and Vihiga counties have been awarded certificates after successfully completing a three-week paralegal training that has empowered them with legal skills to promote access to justice in their respective communities.

Under the Access to Justice program, the sheria mashinani project is aimed at bridging the legal gap existing among the underserved communities due to poverty and ignorance of the law. 

Speaking during the event held on Thursday, August 4, 2022, at Mama Grace Social hall in Kisumu, Sylvia Morwabe, Programs Manager, Access to Justice said a  lot of people in the communities get in trouble because they have little knowledge of the law. 

“The purpose of this training is to impact and empower community members especially the youth with legal skills and knowledge to increase access to justice.  The community paralegals will help the community better understand what the law entails and guide them on how to demand for better services and get help in times of crisis,”  explained Sylvia.

According to Hon. Justice Joel Ngugi, only 21 percent of Kenyans have access to the courts as a primary source of justice. He urged the group of paralegals to demystify the idea that justice can only be found in the courts and work to reactivate the exciting community justice systems to ensure easy access to justice.

“As we celebrate this milestone I call upon this team to be missionaries of justice  to ensure that justice can be accessed by all,” urged Hon. Justice Ngugi.

Crime Si Poa Chairperson, Wilfred Nderitu, accentuated the importance of conducting the training in underserved communities by pointing out the existing gaps and the role the team will play in addressing them.

“You are coming in to bridge a gap that has been there due to ignorance, poverty and bureaucracy by assisting those who don’t know their legal rights or lack access to a lawyer to attain justice,” He said.

County Criminal Investigation Officer (CCIO) Francis Wanjua urged paralegals to play the role of being a community guardian by utilizing the knowledge learned to guide those around them to stand for their rights. Stating that a trained society is easy to deal with.

“ We appreciated the work Crime Si Poa is doing in empowering young people to act as peer counsellors and reaching out to fellow youth who are the most affected by crime. I urged the youth to be ambassadors of peace in the coming election week,” said Njau.

Within just a few months the impact of the training has already manifested itself with the majority of the paralegals attesting to the role they have played in aiding community members access justice. Isaiah Munyala, one of the graduates, described how he has helped educate and advise different community members on arising issues, noting that the majority of his community is ignorant of the law.

“ So far, we have been able to advise on at least three different cases, one of which was successful. We can attribute this to the intensive training we have received from Crime Si Poa team,” he said proudly.

Michael Bala, another graduate, could not hold his excitement as he explained the positive influence the training has had.

“Before the training, I did not know the legal procedures to follow when dealing with child neglect and SGBV cases which are recurrent in my community.  Since the training I have been able to assist in multiple cases that have helped many families get justice,’ he expressed,

May we dwell in Unity, Peace, Love and Liberty

By Fidel Castro

Have you ever wondered why the voice groaning for peace is so loud? Have you ever wondered why this thing, peace, is presented as a priceless jewel whose value cannot be quantified? What is peace and what does it hold to humanity and society?

I know these are some of the questions that have been lingering in your mind, don’t worry, you’re not alone, I have also been thinking through those lines and that is why my pen has decided to settle this matter.

This is not exaggerated talk; neither is it a pep talk. It is the cry of many Kenyans who would want to live a normal life, because in the event when there is no peace, life is never normal. I can’t imagine you shelving off those family treats, those evening walks as the sun is travelling west, shelving the fun moments you religiously have with friends randomly, pale kwa base, I can’t imagine.

The beauty we so much adore in our country, the life we value, the tremendous infrastructural development, the flowers that are blossoming outside your house, along the walk paths, inside Uhuru Park, are in existence because for the last 5 years there has been peace.  

We are just 8 days to elections and just like waters flow never to return to their source, elections will come and go. However, one is for sure, elections will always leave a mark that we will always point to for the next five years. These marks can be positive or negative.

The marks of the last general elections are present with us. It is therefore undeniable that elections will always leave a mark. I remember with nostalgia, the year 2007, what a horrific time we found ourselves in. The tales of that time are as fresh as a daisy. The gory scenes and very terrifying period we had in Kenya.

The wounds of that time are visible only the blind can not see and only the callous cannot relate. Those with their voter’s cards, left their homes to exercise their democratic rights, not knowing what was awaiting them, people left their homes with plans of coming back to wrap up the unfinished business, little did they know that their fellow tribesmen were set ready to instigate violence.

2022 is here, August 9th is fast approaching, and the day is coming at a supersonic speed, what’s chasing after this day? It will come and will generously allow us the opportunity to exercise our democratic right.

Vote for peace. I know we are told that history repeats itself, yes, but also, we can recreate our own history. It must not always be as it was before.

As days keep unfolding, we grow and as a snake moult for example scraping the edges of its mouth against a hard surface until the outer layer sheds and begins to fold back around its head, so should we allow ourselves to shed off the outer layers?

The layers that push us to hit hard our neighbours, our tribesmen, our community mates, and those we share with the same amenities. I am glad various political factions believe that people have the power to make choices. Let us harness that power that resides within us and choose peace.

I need peace, you need peace, we all need peace.

Peace caravan ahead of August 9 polls

Crime Si Poa this Saturday joined government officials, Kajiado County residents and other stakeholders in a peace caravan that aimed at fostering peace ahead of the August 9 general elections.

The peace caravan, organized by the Deputy County Commissioner, Kajiado North Chiefs, Beacon of Hope, Kajiado North Peace Ambassadors, and Crime Si Poa, transverse the larger parts of Kajiado county, from Ngong, Matasia, Kiserian, Ongata Rongai to Kware conducting civic education and awareness to promote peace and unity.

Speaking during the event Irene Were, Programmes Manager Crime Si Poa, called for community members to embrace peaceful co-existence before, during and after polls especially now that we have one week remaining to the elections.

“I would like to second what the speakers have said, your neighbour will remain to be your neighbour even after elections. Let us maintain peace throughout this electioneering period. Politics should not divide us,” said Irene.

Patrick Mwangi, Deputy County Commissioner added that the government is keenly monitoring the happenings in the region to avoid instances of chaos. He further called on Kajiado County residents to maintain peace and unity despite being a very competitive race.

“ in every election, we have winners and losers but that should not trigger violence even if there are those who lose feel dissatisfied with the outcome. We all have our lives to live, elections come and go, when we negate peace, even the things that we value so much will lose their values,” He said.

Celebrations as 40 Inmates Graduate as Paralegals

Celebrations at the Nairobi West Prison as 40 inmates graduated today as paralegals after a 2-week training under the Crime Si Poa, Access to Justice Program. The remand and convicted inmates have been awarded certificates after successfully completing the customized training aimed at equipping them with legal knowledge and skills to assist them as well as their colleagues in accessing justice.

“I am glad to be one of those graduating today. This not only gives us hope but also helps close the criminal justice gap. I feel like a lot needs to be done as far as crime awareness is concerned. Many inmates do not know which acts are considered criminal and which acts are not. Little effort has been put in place to ensure people get the knowledge on crime hence such initiatives as this are much needed in prisons, ” said an inmate (name concealed).

According to Sylvia Morwabe, Programs Director at Crime Si Poa, most inmates in Kenya do not have access to legal representation which adversely affects their trials. The training will thus help the inmates navigate the justice system better leading to fewer miscarriages of justice and wrongful convictions.

“Big congratulations to all graduates for successfully completing the set course. This has been an interactive class. With paralegal skills, the inmates will have an understanding of the law to ensure they get just and fair trials,” said Morwabe.

The training curated and conducted in partnership with the Law Clinic of Strathmore University covered key areas of the criminal justice system, including legal areas such as the trial process, essentials of a fair trial, law of evidence, appeals & reviews, amongst others.

“I appreciate Crime Si Poa for this initiative. There is great importance attached to how you present and conduct yourself while in court. Through the program, inmates have been equipped effectively in order to effectively handle their cases. We ask for more reading materials in order to advance this initiative in prison,” said Regional Commander, Henry Kisungu.

Speaking during the awarding ceremony, Deputy Public Prosecutor in the Office of Director of Public Prosecutions Ms.Emily Kamau, applauded the graduates for the milestone achieved in attaining legal know-how and encouraged them to continue with the pursuit to learn more.

“I have seen many people who have built successful careers having gone through prison. We know of Nelson Mandela among others. It, therefore, does not mean that this is the end, there is still a future for you all. ” She said.

Does the Law Matter for the Poor in Society 

Does the law only work for the rich? This is a statement that is often used among Kenyans and the majority of Africans in countries where access to justice is a nightmare. The years of constant injustice experienced by individuals and as captured by the media help brew this perception. For a very long time, many people have had to grapple with the idea that knowledge of the Law is utterly useless. 

Testaments from Inmates in various prisons that we work in have proved this statement to be untrue. The despair that comes with the lack of understanding of court proceedings, magistrate ruling and the impact of the sentence on their lives is heartbreaking.  

Unfortunately, due to an overburdened justice system, many accused persons often lack proper representation and are left to represent themselves in court, resulting in a miscarriage of justice. Many of them are left wishing they had done things differently in court, however only a few get that chance.  

As we continue to advocate for reforms in the criminal justice system, to ensure that everyone is treated fairly and their rights are protected, we also aim to educate incarcerated persons in different prisons on the law. Crime Si Poa (CSP), through the Access to Justice Program, spearheaded paralegal training in Nairobi West prison where 40 inmates have successfully trained for 1 week and are set to graduate today with legal skills.  

The much-needed training set to take place in over ten prisons CSP works in will enable inmates to effectively defend themselves to positively influence their ruling. The training which entails trail advocacy, writing appeals and reviews, court procedures, and sentencing will prepare remandees as they proceed with their trial processes.  

The paralegal training is also extended into the community, where CSP sensitizes members of the community on the importance of knowing the law and teaches them what the law entails, so that they may know how to live in its confines and learn the diverse ways to resolve conflict aside from the court to avoid prolonged cases.  

Tapping into Digital Skills to Curb Crime in Rongai

By Fidel Castro

ICT Graduation – Rongai

20 youth beneficiaries in Rongai, Kajiado County have graduated with digital livelihood skills after a three-months training by Crime Si Poa. The ICT training was conducted in a bid to engage youth with innovative skills, consequently, curbing high crime rates in the area.  

This is the second cohort that has successfully been equipped with relevant computer skills through the Digital Livelihood Project under the large umbrella of the Social Enterprise Program. Through the project, the youth have had an opportunity to acquire relevant techniques that will succour them in their daily lives.

“We greatly appreciate Crime Si Poa for this initiative, our children have not wandered away in crime and drug abuse, because they were engaged by this program, may God bless you Crime Si Poa,” said Leah, a parent of one of the graduates.

AJIRA Digital Coordinating Officer, Antony Chege, made outstanding remarks encouraging the youth to soldier on the path to acquire more knowledge on digital skills and possibly venture into online work.

“Do not settle at this, keep pushing to acquire more. Currently, almost everything is digitized, you, therefore, need these skills at your figure tips in order to have an upper hand,” said Chege, adding, “There are many legalized profit-making platforms available online, it will do you good to join such platforms and earn your own money with the skills that you have.”

Beyond this, the program seeks to engage young people to reduce the high rate of idleness in the community which redounds to an opportunity of engaging in crime and criminal activities.

According to Phanice Kimutai, Digital Livelihood Project Officer, Crime Si Poa’s greatest motivation is to reach the entire community with the anticrime message. Apart from preparing the youth for a technical world, the organization also empowers young people to be heralds of the anticrime message.

“After this auspicious graduation, sell the anti-crime message far and wide, let people see its breadth and length, let them feel its depth and its height to the end that our community becomes crime-free,” concluded Phanice.