The morning of 23rd June 2014 was a chilly one, but this could not stop us from anticipating about the wonderful time we were going to spend with the June 2014 International Study Week Participants/visitors. As always on Mondays, Wells of Hope (WOH) Staff joined by Gina and Stephen Gant began the day with a fellowship at around 8:00 am at the office which took about forty five minutes.
Our first participants/ visitors who are a family of four (Dr. Muhammad Bahiyyah, Mr. Brown Muntaquin-husband and daughters Jailer and ) from the United States of America arrived around an hour later. After approximately fifteen minutes, the three visitors (Jeanette Gilmartin, Donna Marie and Amy Roberts) from United Kingdom also arrived. The visitors were introduced to the WOH Staff, briefed on the activities of Wells of Hope and later on were given the week’s program.
Together the Wells of Hope team and the Participants headed to WOH Academy at about 10:30 am. and arrived at the Academy at around 12:30 pm.The visitors were then guided around the school premises. Thereafter,they went on to see exhibitions by pupils from some of the school clubs for example: the Girl Child Network talked about abstinence, how to cope up with body changes, body hygiene and protection from HIV/AIDS; the Scouts Club displayed first aid skills given to someone who has choked on say food; the Art Club displayed bracelets made from beads and papyrus. The visitors were then guided to the kitchen and later shared a splendid meal with the children. The main highlight of the day were the skits and dance presentations from the children. These were so lovely that the visitors could not help joining in.
On the 24th of June 2014, four of the Study Week Participants accompanied by Francis, Ellen Eva and Marjorie headed to Paliisa where they visited two families.
The first family was of an inmate on Death Row Ojangole John who was arrested in 2001, most of his family members thought that he was dead. Since his arrest none of his three children has ever visited him, like it is with most children with parents in prison. His first born dropped out of school to take care of his two siblings who attend school irregularly because they are always sickly and lack basic scholastic materials. We also learnt that their mother passed on shortly after abandoning them. We observed that the family was living in a lot of pain; they were not happy especially his eldest son who was quiet and emotional throughout our conversations.
The second family is of Omoding Charles, he was arrested in 2007. He has six children the oldest being 15 years and youngest six years while there, we saw only three children. The children stay with their mother who is a peasant, the children live in deplorable conditions, they were stunted because like Emma 15 years looked like a 10 year old boy. Since his arrest ,his children have never visited him .The family faces a lot of challenges like lack of school fees ,medical care ,beddings. All of these children have never put on a shoe .
On 25th June 2014, the Participants also made a prison visit to Luzira Upper Prisons to interact with the parents of the children under the Wells of Hope Ministries Sponsorship. The children under the sponsorship are at both primary and secondary levels.
It was a successful visit. The prisoners shared their experiences like before WOH existed, most of them used not to be visited at all, but with WOH exist, they at least have their children visit them. They also said that they can now come into physical contact with their children with the help of WOH unlike other ordinary visits. They also said that their children can now visit them even without prison visit Identification Documents as long as they are under WOH care.
The participants also shared how prison visits are done in the United States of America and United Kingdom.
The Study Week Participants also accompanied the children on their prison visit to Luzira Prison on 26th June 2014. They loved the way the parents and the children interacted with one another.It was very emotional indeed.
We held a round-table discussion on 27th June 2014 as part of the study week 2014. The theme was “Prison Family Visitations, a pivotal component in helping children with a parent in prison”.
We discussed the importance of children visiting their parents in prison as a hinge to make life better for these children .
The discussants included Uganda Prison Welfare depart staff, Corrections officers, visiting Study week participants and The National Council for children .The panelists were Francis Ssuubi (Wells of Hope Ministries ), Mr.Magomu Wilson and Barbara Karungi from Luzira Prisons, Dr Bahiyyah Muhammed (Study week Participant ) and Jeanette Gill Martin (Study Week participant), Rosette Kamanyi Mawaggali(National Council for Children). Also in attendance were Staff from Wells of Hope and Uganda Prisons Service .
All the panelists appreciated the Wells of Hope Model and the importance of visitations. Sarah Kyazze a welfare officer in the prisons said “that prisoners who receive visitors are easy to reintegrate back into society” and Dr.Bahiyyah said that such prisoners are less likely to re-offend - recidivism , thus reducing prison populations”. Karungi Barbara a correction officer said ,prisoners who are visited by their children are more disciplined and engage in rehabilitation programmes”.
It was also reiterated that there is an urgent need for a research on the the number of children affected by parental imprisonment in Uganda, and also the impact of children visiting their parents in prison. It was also said that visitations enhances sanity and safety in the prisons. It was said that Prison family visitation keeps the family intact, promotes mentoring of the children.Some of the challenges mentioned were that there are so many prisoners in Uganda, yet Wells of Hope helps just about 0.3%. The officer in charge of Upper Prison Luzira, Mr.Magomu said “this is a drop in the ocean” and so called for increase in funding to help more children especially in facilitating them to visit and attain a good education.
Mr Magomu also mentioned that when the prisons were built, visitations were not taken into consideration, so now that we have come to learn that visitations are important lack of space remains a big challenge.Another challenge is that there is lack of a legal framework governing the kind of prison visitations that activists like Wells of Hope are recommending to avoid any problem.
In our way-forward we agreed that Wells of Hope Ministries and National Council for Children continues to advocate for Children with Parents in Prison by coming up with clear guidelines on how to help children with a parent(s) in prison, come up with a research on Children with parents in prison, Engage the policy and planning unity of prisons to avail the current information they have on Children with parents in prison.
We also agreed that we should add more members on Board and also borrow a leaf from Kenya Prisons which hold family day, where relatives of prisoners visit and have direct visits , the visits are more relaxed ,they eat together and t was a memorable day for prisoners when they got to spend the day with their loved ones during a visit day.
All in all, it was a very successful week.