He can still visualize what happened inside the courtroom after he was sent to the gallows. Aged only 20, the ground shifted under his feet. He literally froze in the dock.
For Stephen Muhoro Waweru, the events of 2001 altered the course of his life after he was convicted of robbery with violence by a Naivasha court.
The thought of being hanged while still young weighed heavily on him before a court orderly nudged him back to reality. His parents who were inside the courtroom wept.
“The only recourse I had was to lodge an appeal after 14-days. That is how I started my 21-years behind bars sojourn,” he recalls.
Prior to his arrest, the former inmate has visited his ageing grandmother in Maai Mahiu to help her run errands and perhaps gain wisdom from her age-long acquired wisdom.
Bubbling over with youthful excitement, Waweru’s stay was eventful as he was able to secure a caretaker’s job at a neighbour’s house. For six months, he carried out his duties with dedication.
“For the period that I plied trade at the home we were never at loggerheads with my employer. Our working relation was very cordial,” he recollects his tenure as an employee.
But the former inmate had a cousin who they shared names with. Unaware of his kin’s dark life, he found time to be with him and with the youth bug at play, strolled around the villages in the evenings.
“We were close; after all, he was my cousin nothing untoward. We were in the same compound little did I know he lived a double life,” says Waweru.
With masked criminal activities their bond grew, at times visiting Waweru at his place of work.
“Being naive and overly trusting, I never knew my cousin was on a spying mission and one night, with fellow accomplices, broke into the home as the family slept,” he remembers.
His cousin with fellow criminals stole a black and white TV set and a transistor radio. After the robbery, his relative melted into the thin air.
Waweru’s goose had been cooked, and police came looking for him as the prime suspect in the robbery. His name was mentioned during the night robbery by the accomplices.
After court appearances, Waweru was convicted and handed a death sentence, his numerous appeals being unsuccessful. He was to stay in prison for 23-years before he was re-sentenced in May last year, earning his freedom.
His initial stay, in his own admission, was “hell on earth,” with no beddings, and limited time to get a whiff of fresh air. “We were referred to as condemned prisoners, treated as pariahs and only waiting to die. I was always in low spirits, and I developed ulcers,” says Waweru.
Before the Narc regime came into power in 2003 and allowed court visits, Waweru was living in solitude, unsure if he would live long enough to secure freedom or come out of jail alive.
“When the late President’s Mwai Kibaki took over the reins of power, things eased a bit in prison with our jail term commuted to life imprisonment,” he remembers
To stop feeling apathetic, the former inmate enrolled for a course in tailoring, starting off in grade three before attaining grade one, the highest qualification.
“The course helped me to overcome jailing blues and cope with the hard life behind bars,” he adds.
Having secured his freedom, Waweru has been racing against time due to lost years and married almost immediately after leaving prison.
“The union was short lived, our age difference was enormous, and we were simply incompatible,” he says.
He has, however, remarried and is slowly getting his act together having stayed in jail for more than two decades. “The only handicap that I am currently facing is lack of a steady job,” he admits.
“I don’t have the capital to start my own hustle and I wish the Prison department could start a scheme for reformed inmates to start own income-generating projects. We have the skills what we lack is the seed capital,” he adds.
When he was sent to prison, the late President Daniel Arap Moi was in his last term in office and mobile phones were an alien thing.
“I came out to realize that Sh 1,000 new notes were unveiled and almost every person owns a TV set. A lot has changed, and I am learning most of the things afresh,” he points out.
“Despite my tribulations, I thank God that I came out and found my parents alive, safe and sound,” he concludes.
Naivasha sub-county probation officer Joel Kamau describes the inmate as the “best behaved” thus recommending for his release after the family accepted him back to the found.
“When he was due for jail release, I visited his family members and they were more than happy to have him back in their fold,” he said.
Mr Kamau, too, calls for support for rehabilitated inmates to help them rebuild their lives.