The ex-prisoner who brought food security home
After serving time in prison, Patrick Kibati returned to his village with valuable farming skills. Today the community's members are successful farmers.
Caroline Kamau, bird story agency
You can tell Patrick Kibati's home from a ways away. Despite the dry, dusty road leading up to his homestead, the property is a green oasis in an otherwise barren-looking landscape in Machakos, east of Nairobi.
"It's not always been like this," said the 70-year-old before starting his story at the small farm where he grows food crops and maintains a fish pond and beehives.
A trained pharmacist, Kibati was employed by the government of Kenya in the 1980s and worked in the prison department, where he helped recruit health officers.
"I was very successful in my career and later opened up a private practice. Life was looking up for me and my family until it all came crumbling down," he said.
Convicted of fraud, Kibati once again returned to prison, this time as a prisoner rather than a health officer.
"In 2012, I received a three-year prison sentence after being implicated in fraud. I served my time at Nairobi West Prison, and the experience was extremely difficult. During the first six months, I felt like I had been taken away from my life. I couldn't hold my children, be with my wife or spend time with my relatives. It was the toughest period of my life," he said.
Kibati, who maintains his innocence and claims it was a case of mistaken identity, admits that the experience almost caused him to fall into depression. However, an experience at the prison saved him.
"One day, after five months in prison, I was approached by an officer in charge who knew of my previous involvement with the prison system. He asked if I would be interested in leading the prison school. After considering it, I agreed to take on the position," said Kibati.
Kenya's correctional facilities provide all inmates with primary and secondary education and vocational training.
"This role gave me purpose. I met young people in a worse place than I was. They needed encouragement and hope. I could encourage them while they, too, encouraged me".
While leading the prison school, Kibati met people from Resource Oriented Development Initiative (RODI), an organisation that works with prisoners in Kenya. Currently, the organisation is working with 33 prisons across the country.
"During my time in prison, RODI provided me with extensive training opportunities. I learned about organic farming, and soap making and even received certification in counselling. Later on, I became certified as a trainer of trainees," says Kibati.
Moses Mbiri, an official at RODI Kenya, says the organisation has worked with Kenyan prisons for over a decade.
"We work with prisoners while in prison, and when they finally leave prison, we help them look at what is left instead of looking at what is lost. RODI helps them to reintegrate back into society," said Mbiri.
Kibati considers himself fortunate, as he was shown a more positive way of life and on his release from prison, he resolved to pursue farming.
"I vowed when I come out, I will not open a clinic, a chemist or anything. I felt when I go out, I'm going to teach people how to farm well. How to make soaps and other little things," he said.
Moses Wanjala, the Inspector of Prisons at Nairobi West, says rehabilitation programs are crucial as they give prisoners a sense of purpose when they leave prison.
"Prisoners undergo counselling and then participate in rehabilitation programs to acquire additional skills and knowledge beyond what they had before entering prison. This training has a significant impact once they are released, as they focus on their progress rather than the time they spent incarcerated," said Wanjala.
Luckily for Kibati, he only served two of his three-year jail term as he was given a one-year remission, and so in 2014, equipped with new skills, he went back to his village and soon afterwards helped form a self-help group called the New Kiimani Self-Help group.
"As an ex-prisoner, it's not easy to reintegrate into society. But I thank God my family was very receptive; once the family stands with you, you don't need anyone else. I was able to share my prison-acquired knowledge of organic farming with the group, and thankfully, it bore fruit, this made it a bit easier for me to be accepted back," he said.
Marrieta Kanini, a member of the New Kiimani group, says she has learnt a lot from Kibati.
"When we started this group, Kibati was one of the founding members and he taught us a lot of things. He taught us about farming, how to plant crops and trees and about organic farming. Today I have embraced organic farming and also learnt foods that can do well in this dry region".
Marrieta says she harvested over ten bags of maize and cowpeas in the last harvest in her half-acre piece of land and sold the excess produce to pay for her child's school fees.
The group has more than a dozen members who have benefited from farming activities, ensuring their food security.
Kibati said he does not shy away from telling members of his community he was in jail.
"I don't tell them for them, just so they can know, no. I tell them for me, for my healing. Through my story I want them to know a man and woman can go through a pit and come out of it".
bird story agency