Kenya

Ex-headteacher speaks about his 20 years behind bars

Ex-headteacher speaks about his 20 years behind bars

On Wednesday, January 12, Richard Ochieng Orwa stepped out of the Kibos Maximum Security Prison gates in Kisumu dressed in a dark suit, white shirts, a striped black-and-white tie and black shoes.

The former primary school headteacher had been in prison to pay for the crime of defilement.

For 20 years, the Kibos prison, surrounded by six-feet-high walls, had been his home, and his fellow inmates and the prison wardens his family.

When the Nation caught up with Mr Orwa, he said he wanted to share his story as a lesson for other men. He was uncomfortable speaking about what prompted his jailing two decades ago.

“At 38 years old, I had plans of supporting my wife and children, a dream that was cut short by my imprisonment. It was not easy being separated from my young family.”

While other inmates and prison wardens bid him farewell outside at the gates on Wednesday morning, his extended family and friends could barely hide their joy on their reunion.

Outside the prison, inmates sang him a farewell song while he hugged family members with joy.

Richard Ochieng Orwa

Mr Richard Ochieng Orwa is received by family members after he was freed from Kibos Maximum Security Prison on January 12, 2022 having spent 20 years behind bars for defilement.

Photo credit: Tonny Omondi | Nation Media Group

As he made his first few steps to freedom, the events of 2001 still remained fresh in his mind.

Mr Orwa was arrested in January 2001 and charged with defiling his 14-year-old student.

“I was accompanied to the Rongo Law Courts by my stepmother to receive the judgment.”

His own mother was sickly and could not go with him but promised to offer a prayer.

He had hoped to be acquitted and looked forward to carrying on teaching, a profession he had practised for only nine years.

But he was found guilty and sentenced to 30 years in prison on January 12, 2002.

He was sent to the Kibos prison, hundreds of kilometres from his home in Awendo, Migori County.

“When I left the chambers with chains around my hands, my stepmother could not hide her pain and immediately broke down in tears alongside my wife and close friends.”

Richard Ochieng Orwa

Mr Richard Ochieng Orwa is received by family members after he was freed from Kibos Maximum Security Prison on January 12, 2022 having spent 20 years behind bars for defilement.

Photo credit: Tonny Omondi | Nation Media Group

As they bid him farewell, they promised to offer prayers on his behalf, visit often and stay in touch. While his stepmother has since died, the rest of the family was present at the prison as he departed.

“At the time, my biggest worry was my wife, who apart from being jobless had now been entrusted with the responsibility of taking care of our children,” Mr Orwa said, adding that when he left for prison, his firstborn was in Standard Six while the last-born was only four years old.

The father of five tried to appeal against his sentence at the High Court, to no avail. Left with no option, he made up his mind to serve his entire sentence.

He admits that the first days were tough. Adjusting to his new life behind bars was never easy.

As a headteacher, he was used to issuing instructions and acting as the overall authority while the entire school community was always answerable to him.

But in prison, he was always the recipient of instructions.

“I had to adjust to a timetable of waking up at 4am while I went to bed at 4pm. Our common meal of ugali and kales was also not one that anyone could admire.”

Inmates’ spiritual leader

To keep himself busy, he decided to join the prison choir. He later became the choir master, the inmates’ spiritual leader and a mentor.

He was also awarded three diploma certificates in theological studies.

“We have also equipped him with tailoring and carpentry skills which will help him establish himself once he gets back to the society,” says the Kibos prison officer in charge, Ms Beverly Lungaso.

Ms Lungaso, who has served at the prison for one year and a half, said Mr Orwa was disciplined and kept addressing her as “Mommy”.

Mr Orwa would visit and clean her office every day before embarking on other prison activities, which included cleaning up the compound, slashing overgrown grass, logging and transporting various commodities from one room to the next.

“His high level of discipline made me recognise him among other prisoners. I also asked to go through his files and I realised he had not engaged in any indiscipline activities,” she said.

While in prison, he stayed in touch with his family, who would visit once in a while. He also made use of his free time to make peace with the complainant and her family.

Richard Ochieng Orwa

Mr Richard Ochieng Orwa is received by family members after he was freed from Kibos Maximum Security Prison on January 12, 2022 having spent 20 years behind bars for defilement.

Photo credit: Tonny Omondi | Nation Media Group

“The lady and her father have since forgiven me, a fact that granted me peace of mind. Over time, I also learnt to forgive myself,” he said.

He thanked his family and friends for standing with him and the prison authorities for making his journey in the prison a memorable one.

“I came here as a law-breaker but today I am leaving as a nation builder. I promise the authorities that I will continue to serve the nation obediently throughout my life.”

His wife, Ms Monica Akinyi, could not hide her joy when she welcomed him. The 20-year jail term had presented her family with great challenges.

While she was the target of criticism from society, her children had to grow up without a father figure around them.

“I had to look for ways to clear their fees with the help of close family members. They are all in school, with the firstborn now in Form Four while the last born in Grade Five,” she said.

The prison and several well-wishers also gifted him a sewing machine, beddings and carpentry equipment, which he will use to start life outside prison once he gets back home in Awendo later today.