Joseph Kimani Mugita is by far the most positive and optimistic prisoner I’ve met yet. The warmth with which he greeted my salute, the unending smile on his face and basically everything about him radiated hope and life. When I asked his name, he beamed with what I later came to cognise as gentle pride pronouncing it with a heavy kikuyu accent. I could immediately tell from his mannerism that he was eager to tell of his life story. A journey he began 38 years ago in Githumu kandara District, Central Province where he has spent all his life. He has never known who his father is although he speaks with high emotions about his mother who has never visited since he was transferred from Thika Remand Prison to Kiambu Prison. He however has an explanation for this, “she is very sick, ata huko Thika alikua tu anajikaza kuja kuniona. Na hata ninauhakika hajui kama niko hapa…” he says.
Before he got carried away talking about his mum I asked about him; what he did to get him incarcerated, what he did for a living and about his family. “Don’t get me wrong…” he began “I‘m a responsible man, I drive a matatu for a living. I have a wife, though estranged and a baby girl. I even own one and a half hectare of land where I have planted tea.” ‘Seriously?’ I thought before noticing that he had become solemn. Having a wife is the best thing that has ever happened to him he tells me, so when one day he came back home from work a little drunk and found that his wife had left with his kid the walls caved in on him and he lost control of his life for a while. He had never been faced with depression like it did then neither had he reason to stay in the bar drinking till he could barely walk. The more it sank in that his wife had left and with his kid, the more reason he thought he had to destroy whatever little hope he then had left. What followed was that every after work he passed through the local bar to drain his frustrations with alcohol and that is what got him into prison (an eventuality he never before had envisioned).
“How did you find prison?” I asked. “First I hated it, which was when I viewed it as punishment. This is the second time I’ve been judged guilty. The first time was also because of beer and I was sentenced to six months probation. The second time I was sentenced to eight months probation but I failed to honour the terms. I did not report to the probation officer for 90 days so the judge whom I appeared before a lot of times said ‘nimezoea’ and sent me to serve a three years jail term without a fine. Surprisingly, I’m enjoying my time here because it’s not like I’m in prison. Actually it’s like the judge sent me to school the amount of knowledge I’ll leave this place with will help me with my farming no doubt. I have a certificate in Business, Sustainable development and grafting. I’m actually planning to quit driving for full time farming. I’ll make a point of going to thank the judge.” He answered as I listened surprised that anyone could be this happy to be incarcerated.
He told me he had a bit of money saved up so he will just buy seedlings and go on with his life. He doesn’t plan to go look for his wife. The feeling he has is of being reborn and things of the past should remain where they belong, ’in the past.’ He however wouldn’t mind his kid being part of his new life. “Good tiding…” is all I could think of telling him.