Wanini Kireri: How I juggle prisons work and my writing

Wanini Kireri: How I juggle prisons work and my writing

Ms Wanini Kireri is the Commandant of the Prisons Staff Training College (PSTC) at Ruiru. She has served in various capacities in the Prisons Department. She has combined administrative roles with writing, which is a rare feat for one in the uniformed service sector.

She is also an avid reader who has written two books on leadership and management: The Disruptor and Leadership Through the Eyes of a Prisons Officer. Ms Kireri spoke to the Saturday Nation on her experience as a Prisons Officer and writing.

Your first book ‘The Disruptor’ is autographical. At what stage in your life did you know you would become an author?

Quite early, I think. At the age of 17, while still in high school, I joined a leadership course at the Outward Bound Leadership School. I also had the idea and in my mind I always thought of putting these ideas into writing. Another thing that made me realise I would write is my life experience as a career prisons officer as well as reading various books written by great world leaders.

What kind of books influenced you in your formative years?

I want to say that I read a lot. I love reading books and, therefore, I have gone through many books, but the ones that I would say truly influenced my writings over the years are: The Unbound and The Challenge of Africa by Wangari Mathai, Riding on a Tiger by Moody Awori and The Power of a Woman who Leads by Gaile Hayes. Various other leadership books, relevant documentaries as well as Oprah Winfrey Magazine and newspaper articles such as the ones by Githinji Florence have had a huge impact on me.

What do you consider the role of books in developing an individual and society?

You know when I was writing my books, especially The Disruptor, I felt that it would be beneficial to all officers, demystifying management roles. Other roles of books in the society includes introducing people to the world of imagination and how to unleash their potential. Books facilitate the sharing of knowledge and life skills thus inspiring individuals and organizations to improve not just their reading culture, but also their other endeavours.

What are you reading now?

I am currently reading two books, or should I say a magazine and a book. The magazine by Oprah Winfrey and the book is ‘Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff’ by Richard Carlson.

In ‘The Disruptor’ you detailed the reforms that captured the nation’s imagination in the 2000s and etched your name, and that of then Vice President Moody Awori, permanently in the annals of our country’s correctional history. How did you pull this through?

For some time, I had nursed the idea in my mind but it wasn’t easy to actualise it. Opportunities are through clamour for change through the human rights perspectives. Opportunities also came through open-door policy and the goodwill of the government through the then Vice President and the Minister for Home Affairs, Moody Awori and other well-wishers.

When I was serving as the officer In-charge Shimo La Tewa, I managed to organize a very successful remote parenting which as a result, helped in the push for reforms in Kenya Prisons Service. As a parent, I had always empathised with imprisoned parents who had to be separated from their children for several years.

As much as any imprisoned person must forego some fundamental freedoms, it seemed unfair to me that innocent children had to be denied the chance to interact with their incarcerated parents. The remote parenting concept enabled prisoners to have family days when they would spend quality time with their children and at least get to know how they were fairing.

During the same period, we also had the privilege of introducing beauty pageantry and fashion shows for prisoners. These programmes were aimed at inculcating confidence and self-esteem in the inmates besides fostering the process of re-integration into society.

Leadership is an area that many have written about. Yet you still felt compelled to write about it. What are you saying in 'Leadership Through the Eyes of a Prisons Officer' which has just come off the press?

That is very true, but I also believe that there are developments in all aspects. Leadership and management are not exceptional. In this regard I want to say that my personal experience as a career prison officer who has worked as duty officer, officer in charge and many other responsibilities give me insights which others can benefit from.

I have dealt and interacted with different kind of people of all levels and so through these I felt the need of talking about leadership from my own experience.

This book is also a confirmation that most of the leadership skills and styles cut across and can be applied in all organizations.

The type of organization that I work in was also a pull factor for me coming up with this book. The uniformed services are considered to be very strict, and compliance with the policies and frameworks are the order of the day. But it is also true that it is human beings that work there and still need to be managed through these unique leadership styles.

You are in a profession that thrives on strict command chain, what made you to write on leadership?

I think it is through my nature of trying to disrupt the traditional methods and the need to blend them with the accepted ways or the best practice in contemporary leadership so as to achieve maximum productivity within Kenya prisons service.

How long did it take you to write ‘Leadership Through the Eyes of a Prisons Officer?

This last book took me like a year to get done with. Being my second book, I had acquired better, easier writing skills. But for my first book ‘Disruptor’, I must say it took me some good time, since around the year 2010. I realized that an autobiography is very involving as I had to recollect my childhood experiences to date.

As head of the only prisons training institute with many staff and recruits, when do you get time to write? 

It is true, the college is a very busy institution that has training activities running throughout the year. So, yes creating time during working hours is never easy, I always sacrifice my nights and weekends to focus on my writings. The other moments I utilize to the maximum are my annual leaves.

To what extent do you think the prisons training curriculum prepares prisons staff to deal with terror suspects and other emerging threats?

We have a robust policy and tradition of periodic review of the training curriculum. The current curriculum has included all the contemporary issues affecting our institutions and society. You know a curriculum is a living document and so we are alive to changing dynamics and always respond to them.