Top Kenya prison officials and prisons staff at the King’ong’o maximum prisons were on Tuesday treated to a rare spectacle when two former inmates chose the prison’s chapel to solemnize their marriage.
The lovebirds Virginia Kalondu, 24 and her groom Martin Mzera 28, travelled all the way from Nairobi to Nyeri County to tie the knot as way of encouraging inmates and prison officials that ex-convicts can be reintegrated back into society and lead a normal life after serving their jail term.
“For seven years, the prison cells were my home. Never at one point did I ever imagine that anyone would be interested in being in a relationship with an ex-convict,” said Virginia.
“We chose to have our wedding here as a way of encouraging inmates that they can lead a normal life after confinement,” she added.
The white wedding was the climax of a second graduation ceremony for 378 inmates who graduated with a certificate course in Mindset Education and Theology from the International Youth Fellowship (IYF) Programme.
Both Virginia and Martin first met in 2016 during one of the worldwide youth camps organized by IYF and forged a friendship. The couple said that they had participated in the IYF mindset education programme during their time in jail and decided to pursue the program after they had been released as volunteers. According to the couple, the IYF volunteer opportunities and mentorship camps created the best opportunity for them to court and share their past.
While Martin had been convicted with robbery charges and sentenced for a year at the King’orani Prison in Mombasa County, Virginia was first locked up at the Kirigiti Girls Rehabilitation in Kiambu for bang addiction. She would later serve another sentence at the Jamhuri short sentence prison for attempted murder.
However, despite Virginia’s stained past, Martin says that thanks to the course, his perspective about ex-prisoners who had undergone the behavior change course was different. He said that from the onset of their friendship Virginia had laid bare her past, adding that he was convinced that she had transformed from being an offender to a changed advocate.
“She was very open from the get go and I could associate with her transformation. I was also convinced that our story would be a tool that would inspire change in society,” said Martin.
Although the wedding could be described as a simple one lasting less than 45 minutes, the ceremony came complete with all the trappings of a fully-fledged wedding but with a twist. The couple shared their wedding cake immediately after exchanging vows. Thereafter, the couple shared a simple meal with their guests who included their mentors from the IYF and the prison staff.
“The ceremony was not as elaborate as a normal wedding but we are planning a bigger ceremony where we will host our relatives and close friends,” Martin explained.
Among the guests was the director in charge of rehabilitation and welfare services at the Kenya Prison Service, Olivia Obel who urged the couple to use their love story to inspire ex-convicts to seek a positive life after they are released from correctional facilities.
By Lawrence Munyaka and Wangari Mwangi