Mohamed Guyo was released from prison in February after 11 years behind bars. Mr Guyo, who had been found guilty of manslaughter, was a farmer prior to his arrest and imprisonment.
Keen to keep his farming passion alive even while behind bars, the father -of- four pitched the idea to the senior wardens at all the nine prisons where he served time.
At Isiolo Prison, his last station, a small piece of land was set aside for him and, through farming, he had Sh30,000 in his welfare kitty.
This is all he had on him when he left the prison.
Today, he is a horticulture farmer in Imenti South, Meru County, earnings “thousands of shillings” growing eggplants, brinjals, dudhi, short chili, ocra and bitter lemon for export.
“I have served in 10 prisons and I was able to pioneer farming in three of them, including Embu Prison where I served first, Kangeta Prison and Isiolo Prison,” he told Enterprise at his farm.
“The officer-in-charge at Isiolo Prison was keen on seeing me excel in my passion and he, therefore, supported me. I love farming and that is why I initiated these projects.”
A few months before his release, he persuaded the officers to help him identify land where he could continue farming and “pick up my life.”
The warders, whom he says liked him, got an acre of land.
Upon his release, Mr Guyo got a loan of Sh100,000 from Makindu Growers and Packers Limited, which he used to buy seedlings as well as lease the land.
Prior to his sentencing in 2005, Mr Guyo was working with Makindu Growers. He convinced them to sign him up afresh and lend him the capital he needed to restart farming.
He has since expanded the land under lease to four acres. He employs between 10 and 15 casual workers and three permanent ones. His main source of water is the Isiolo River on the edge of his farm.
Mr Guyo has signed contracts with two export companies, namely Makindu Growers and Packers Limited and Ahmed Exotic Limited.
These companies collect produce from his farm once a week. They are exported to Asia.
“Selling directly to the international market pays better than selling through export companies. For example, a kilogramme of bitter lemon goes for $14 (Sh1,400) in London. This is way more profitable than going through the export firms,” he says.
Other than the lack of direct access to international markets, he cites the challenge of mites which, when they attack, lower his earnings since export standards are stringent.
He sells a five kilogramme carton of eggplants for Sh150 while a similar quantity of bitter lemons goes for Sh400.
Five kilogrammes of short chili retail at Sh300 while ocra is sold at Sh300. Even at these rates, the entrepreneur says he makes profit. He makes more than Sh150,000 every month, money he says he has helped him support his family.
Kenya has 118 correctional facilities that collectively hold 56,000 inmates, double their capacity, a case tied to the government’ failure to invest in new infrastructure.
Many inmates who get released, either after serving their term or through presidential pardons, have a hard time re-integrating into the society, which views them with suspicion or reject them outright.
Therefore, some former convicts end up returning to the prison shortly after their release when they are caught on the wrong side of the law, again.
“Offenders, particularly those who have served lengthy sentences in prison, may have difficulty acclimatising to a world that may be significantly different from the one they previously knew and left behind,” says the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights.
“Thus, if they lack people to receive them back in the society, to assist them adjust to the new norms of an ever-changing society, they may engage in illegal practices in an attempt to satisfy their needs and thus end up re -offending and re -arrested”
Getting arrested, Mr Guyo says, and convicted “is not the end of life.” If somebody made good use of the skills acquired in prison, they can make ends meet upon release.
“I spent a lot of time in prison. During that time, there has been a lot of transformation in the outside world including technology used in farming. I hope to catch up with the rest of society soon,” he says.