Prison was my place of redemption

Prison was my place of redemption

Gloria Acan Photo credit Advance Afrika

Gloria Acan gazed at the prison cell wall wondering when this ordeal would be over. She remembered the sound of the magistrate’s hammer when he sentenced her to six months in prison. She had appeared in court three times before. She had prayed that the magistrate would have mercy on her and allow her to take care of her three children. Now, she was certain that everybody was right about her being a pathetic mother.

Her life had been like a free fall; the magistrate’s hammer was rock bottom – She dropped out of school at senior 4, a marriage gone sour at 20, here she was at 22 in jail.

“When I was four months pregnant with my second child, he went on a ‘work trip’ and never returned. He had told me that he could never take me to his parents’ home because they could never accept an Acholi girl.”

For a girl in her village, if she hadn’t completed school, a man with some property was her way out. A year later, she met a man of her own tribe that seemed to love her and her two children.

“He owned land, he introduced me to his family and he wasn’t embarrassed to have me like the first Munyakole man that had disappeared.” She said.

This love affair soon came to an end when the man started to drink alcohol.

“My husband was drinking all the time, and every time he drunk, he beat me. One day, we were attending his relative’s funeral when he started to beat me up in front of mourners. It is like he enjoyed humiliating me. People came running towards us and pulled him away from me. Those that witnessed the scene at the funeral cautioned me that he was going to kill me if I didn’t leave him.” She said.

She left him.

“Life was hard when I left him. Our child was five months old.” She said

After what seemed like series of endlessly failed business ventures, she decided to take her last child who was eight months then to his father. His father, in turn, took the child to St Jude a foster home in Gulu town. Before St Jude takes on a child, they inform the police. The police started to investigate and ended up jailing Acan for child abandonment.

Close to three months into her time in prison, the prison warden came with an announcement. A civil society organization called Advance Afrika was conducting a rehabilitation and economic empowerment of inmates and ex-inmates in Northern Uganda to prepare them for life after prison.

“I must have been the first one to apply.” She said. “I prayed day and night that I would be selected for the training program. My gut told me that this might be an opportunity for a second chance in life.”

The organization conducted an interview, where she mentioned that she was interested in studying business skills. After a few weeks, they came back to announce the participants. She had been selected.

“I was excited. It never occurred to me that prison would be my place of redemption – the skills that they taught me I could never have learned from anywhere else. I paid all the attention that I could afford to the teachers that were teaching us.”

In May this year, she was released.

“On May 23rd, a social worker from Advance Afrika gave me a bale of second-hand clothes as start up kit. The first time I went to the market, my sales were 150,000 Ugx. Everything has turned around for me.” She smiled. “My children are in school. I got my son back, from St Jude. I can afford to pay rent. I hope to purchase land soon and build a home for my children. I am not in a hurry to get married again because I want to go back to school. I am not the same woman that walked into that prison cell.”

She Was Raped on Her Way to School

She Was Raped on Her Way to School

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Mr. Byamugisha (not real name) is a troubled man. Last year, his 7-year-old daughter was raped on her way to school. The culprit is 16 and by every definition, this is statutory rape.

Immediately Byamugisha went to Katuna police station, the police officers asked him for a doctor’s letter to prove whether his girl had been raped. The doctors confirmed that it was true. He was sent to Kabale police station where he filed a case. He was later referred to Kabale district headquarters in Makanga where he was assured he would get legal aid.

The case was dismissed. They (he doesn’t mention who in particular) asked him to come up with a gentleman’s agreement with the perpetrator and was convinced to drop the case  since both (victim and perpetrator) were under age,  they were advised go home and move on with their lives.

Byamugisha still had a glimmer of hope that justice would be served. He went back to Kabale central police station to reopen the case because he had been saving up some money to hire a lawyer from his house-painter wages. The officers at the  station told him that the case number couldn’t be found.

He  gave up.

But the torment remains with him and his family. The girl’s life is ruined. She will have to face her tormentor every day of her life. The village is small; they will fetch water from the same well. They will go to the same church. They will go to the same market. she will use the same road to go to school every day. Even when the village eventually forgets, she will quietly live with this indelible stain.

According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics’ Statistical Abstract, 2014, defilement was the most common serious crime of all serious crimes of 2013. Out of the 18,000 serious crimes that were investigated in 2013, 9,598 were defilement cases.

Justice is not something many poor people in this country even think about. They have no money to buy it. They cannot bribe the policemen to prioritize their case, They have no money to hire a lawyer. Byamugisha will live with his pain and no one will care.

“One thing to note is that the legal system in principle is designed to work for all. However, it’s the ubiquitous implementation gaps that rig its effectiveness and defeat its ability to deliver for ‘ordinary’ citizens.” Andrew Karamagi a lawyer said.

Byamugisha’s story is the story of many families that have been affected by crime and have given up hope in their pursuit for justice.

I promised Byamugisha that I would write his story, and hopefully, a good Ugandan might pick it up and ensure that Byamugisha gets justice.

African Hands
Photo Credit: Getty Images