Nairobi — Rarely do those serving prison sentences have anything good to say about their incarceration. More often, they complain about poor facilities and mistreatment in the hands of warders.
But for Diwan Maalim Abdullahi, the general hopelessness and deprivation that go with serving a term in jail is not an issue.
And this is not just because the jail sentence was reduced due to his good conduct, as he is set to leave jail on July 1, after five years.
For Abdullah, the conviction was what he now terms, the beginning of bright future. And top among the benefits, besides the rehabilitation, is education, which he missed in his childhood in Mogadishu due to decades of civil strife.
Mr Abdullahi, 30, was among 10 suspected pirates extradited to Kenya in 2006 to stand trial for hijacking an Indian flagged ship MV Safina Al Bisaraat off the coast of Somalia on January 20.
The offence, according to prosecutors, threatened the lives of crew not to mention that demanding ransom was a crime.
"I will not regret my trial in Kenya as I am now an educated, reformed and absolutely different person," he remarked in an interview with Nation on the sidelines of a graduation ceremony at Mombasa's Shimo La Tewa GK Prison.
The graduation was for 11 prisoners who had attended a two-year intermediate course for Imams.
"I sat for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exam in 2009 and I can now speak English and Kiswahili."
Abdullahi says that he could hear his fellow inmates sing and talk in Kiswahili and it made him yearn to master the language.
"I am now an Imam. I scored grade "A-", but in KCPE, I got only 101 marks because I did not study hard," he said in fluent English, to prove he was now one of the world's billions that speak the Queens mother tongue.
Dressed in a white kanzu, an Islamic cap and a checked piece of cloth running down his shoulders, Abdullah received his Imam certificate and a gift hamper from Coast provincial prison commandant James Kodieng amid a broad smile that exposed a front golden tooth.
Abdullah is looking forward to receiving support from the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to move his family to Kenya and further his education. But the most tormenting issue in the mind of Abdullah is the wellbeing of his wives, Dahab Hassan and Halima Hussein who were expectant by the time of his extradition to Kenya to face trial.
"I am a very disturbed person sometimes, because I have not communicated with them since I came here. Mogadishu has been a battlefield. Unless they have managed to cross to Kenya, I still fear for them and my children," he said.
Sheikh Abdi Jele, a senior prison officer in charge of the Islamic training at Shimo La Tewa prison described Abdullah as a hard-working student.
The slender, brown skinned Abdullah said: "I have learnt a lot in this prison. Life is absolutely a different one. I want to lead a life full of peace once I leave this prison.
"If I were in Mogadishu, this golden day that is a climax of my struggle to acquire knowledge of my religion (Islam) and KCPE would not have occurred in my life.
"I would have been a death statistic recorded in the streets of Mogadishu. I thank the Almighty Allah for this opportunity that happened to me in a foreign peaceful country."
The training happened through a joint venture between Prisons authorities and Prison Reform Programme Organisation (PRP), an NGO supporting the government prison reform programme in several prisons.
Although learning was tedious due to shortage of teachers and materials, the organisation used DVD lessons recorded by college tutors.
Coast provincial prison commandant James Kodieng said that through education, notorious inmates had reformed.
"They are capable of change. We will cooperate with the initiators of this noble course for its success. There is a lot of religious commitment among them now," the prison boss said.
The PRP Mombasa region chairman, Sheikh Mohsin Abdul Qadir said: "The entrenchment of education is prison reforms has indeed moulded a group of people once condemned by the society because of their past mistakes.
"We have several ex-prisoners-turned-preachers out there."