New Vision (Kampala)

Uganda: Making Soap Behind Bars

For a prisoner on death row, one would expect their mind to be pre-occupied with preparing themselves for their end. For why should a person waiting to face the horrors of the hangman's noose care about the material world.

That was Denis Kasirye's thinking until 2010 when the Uganda Prisons Service introduced a soap and detergent making project.

The 30-year old from Luwero had been on death row at Luzira Maximum Security Prison since he was convicted in 1998 of aggravated robbery and murder.

Kasirye, who has accepted his fate, will not appeal to the ruling. He is one of the pioneer trainees of the soap making project that was conducted in collaboration with Makerere University's department of technology and Ingenuity Technologies Ltd.

On completion of the course last year, he was one of the top students and was retained to train other inmates.

"I have decided to think progressively. If I am hanged then so be it. However, there is a pardon, I will leave prison with some skills," he says.

The prisons soap and detergent making project is one of the innovations not only introduced to equip inmates with useful skills to earn a living, but also to mitigate the high costs of supplying soap and detergents to the prisoners.

The Commissioner General of Prisons, Dr. Johnson Byabashaija disclosed that the Government spends over sh100m annually on the procurement of detergents for prisons countrywide.

"The current demand for detergents is far beyond the annual budget. This creates perennial deficit of soap supply given the increasing number of inmates," Byabashaija explains.

He notes that the project has gone a long way in mitigating the acute shortage of soap and detergents in prison.

Jacqueline Nassimbwa, an inmate mother who is serving a 20-year jail term from for murder testifies on the benefits of the project. "Parenting behind bars was a challenge before this project was introduced. Washing my daughter's clothes was a problem because the soap that was supplied by prison warders was not enough," she explains.

According to Prisons authorities, convicts with children are entitled to basic neccesities like medication, soap, clothing, nappies, milk and porridge for their children.

Statistics show that there are at least 161 children livng with their mothers in the 21 women detention facilities in the country. With 43 children, Luzira Women's Prison has the highest number of children, according to prison authorities.

Before the project, mothers in jail were provided with two pieces of soap per week to wash their children's clothes. However, the supply was never enough, recalls Nassimbwa.

"Having enrolled in the project and attained skills in soap making, I no longer find challenges in keeping my toddler clean. With enough detergents, I wash whenever I feel like," she adds.

Inmates of Luzira Womens Prison illustrate to Prisons officials how to make liquid detergent.

The prisons publicist Frank Baine said the ingredients for making the soap and detergents are procured from the open market.

He, however, says they have not yet established how much the prisons service was saving by making its own soap and detergents.

With the project, Byabashaija anticipates that Uganda's prisons shall be one of the cleanest detention facilities in the region.

"With the high unemployment rate in the country, this project will support inmates to create employment when they are freed, hence reducing on the re-offending rate," he adds.

A research by the Uganda Prisons Service found that 30% of the inmates discharged from prisons units are re- arrested as a result of committing other crimes.

The prisons authorities said the re-offending rate was highest among those who leave detention facilities without any income-generating-skills.

"The non-skilled inmates find challenges sustaining themselves upon discharge because they lack a source of income, forcing them to commit crime and they end up in prison again," Byabashaija explains.

As part of a personal creed to go through a proper rehabilitation process to learn new skills, Kasirye enrolled with the prisons education service, where he completed his O' and A' level.

"I had not got the chance to be fully educated in a formal system like enrolling in a vocational training institution by the time I was imprisoned," he says.

Kasirye adds that he decided to use the opportunity of free education and unrestricted access to rehabilitation programmes in Prisons to gain skills in numerous courses.

In what he refers to as a blessing in disguise, Kasirye is now highly skilled in carpentry, tailoring and soap-making, the skills he says would have helped him avoid criminal activities had he acquired them much earlier.

Kasirye's strength is soap-making, and from the look of things, is guaranteed to take him places.

"I expect to use the knowledge gained in the detention facility to create employment in case I am set free," Kasirye says.

Kasirye is one of the most instrumental people in this project. He trains other inmates and so far 5,000 prisoners have benefited from the project.

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