23 January 2018

Uganda: 63-Year-Old Prisoner Passes PLE

The heavy Friday afternoon rain found me in Luzira Upper prison internet laboratory covering the release of the 2017 Primary Leaving Examinations results for the inmates' school.

Although it fell short of a celebration, the mood in the chilly afternoon was reassuring for a long-term inmate who had excelled and is looking forward to enrolling for secondary education in jail.

Gilbert Nuwamanya, the general head teacher of the prison's schools, noted that this year's performance was better although he had expected more first grades.

Three of the inmates passed in first division; 36 were in second grade; 18 managed in third division while 20 pupils were in fourth division. There was only one failure.

Luzira's class of 2017 had just three women, who all passed, with the best scoring aggregates 26. Among them is 62-year-old Edigarida Bikwatirizo who scored aggregates 33.

"She has really surprised me," noted Nuwamanya. "According to the way she has been complaining about her eyes, I thought she wouldn't do this well."

There's also 63-year-old Fred Tumwesigye who is serving many years for murder. He has been in prison for only two years. When I ask how he performed, Tumwesigye points to his name on the list, with almost no pride in his eyes.

"I want to do these exams again so that things don't disturb me in S.1," he says in a matter-of-fact-tone.

Fred Ndorere, the primary section head teacher, encourages him to enroll for secondary school.

"Will I manage to compete with these young sharp men?" he says, pointing at a group of young inmates who are glued to a computer.

Tumwesigye, however, acknowledges that the two years he has spent studying in prison have been worthwhile.

"I was not educated. When they gave me this sentence, I decided to study," says Tumwesigye, who was a farmer in Rukungiri district before his conviction.

For a man who could neither count his money nor the amount of coffee harvested from his farm, he feels that this chance, despite its timing and environment, is a life-changer for him.

"I also used to fear talking to people who are highly educated but now, I can talk to my fellow inmates who are highly educated," notes Tumwesigye.

The father of seven has aspirations. He hopes to become an area councilor when he gets freed. However, the shortage of books and pens has been a challenge to Tumwesigye and the class at large.

Sowedi Nsubuga, who emerged best with aggregate 11, said he would have performed better if there were textbooks and sufficient study materials.

"Challenges are there but we have to persevere," said the aspiring doctor, who is remorseful about his past and hopes to help save lives as atonement for his crime which he declined to mention.

His colleague, 30-year-old Junior Tumuhimbise, the second with aggregate 12, talks about life lessons learned behind bars.

"Even if you don't go to school, prison itself teaches you so many things," says the soft-spoken remand-inmate who dropped out of school several years ago before turning to crime.

He feels they would have performed better if they had more time.

"We only study for five hours yet we don't have morning or night preps," Tumuhimbise said.

Nuwamanya, however, noted that being a security institution, extension of study hours could be difficult. Nevertheless, he urged the government to increase the Prisons service budget so that education can be improved.

"When our inmates are educated, it reduces the chance of re-offending," Nuwamanya noted, "Our educational services have played an important role in rehabilitating the prisoners."

In 2014, the International Journal of Criminology ranked Uganda's prison system as the best in Africa and fourth internationally due to its low re-offend rate. This is partly attributed to the comprehensive education services for inmates.


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