Counselling to tame fatal warders

Published on 11/10/2011

By Kevin Tunoi

It is a chilly morning and many of the prison service officers are gnashing their teeth as they perform their daily duties. Despite their being inadequately dressed to counter the biting cold, they are not complaining.

The prison warders at Ngeria Farm Prison, a correctional facility in Uasin Gishu County, mingle freely with some hardened criminals. The impact of this on them is hard to tell, but they need to be equipped with skills of handling such encounters.

Imagine a situation where such a prisoner tells the warder: “The man I killed with my bare hands was twice your size. I can kill you using just two fingers.”

Well, not exactly, but the psychological trauma can be horrible.

Warders are said to be so inhuman that they ‘enjoy’ beating up their chargees, but there are prisoners even warders fear.

Such things pile up and over time, affects the warders. They need to have coping skills.

That is why on this day when The Standard team visits the facility, the warders’ boss, Superintendent of Prison Barnabas Keino, ushers the warders into the mud-walled church within the facility. But it is not a church service going on; the warders and their spouses are going in for guidance and counselling.

Leading the session are religious leaders from different churches.

Their motivation is to curb the rising cases of uniformed officers committing suicide, murdering or seriously wounding their spouses as well as colleagues over flimsy excuses.

The topics under discussion include family, leadership, demotion and remuneration-related stresses – issues that usually come up as reasons for killing colleagues or oneself.

Salome Jebitok, a counsellor, says the hardships officers go through have proved fatal.

“We read in the media that a police officer has killed his family or colleagues by the gun that he should have used to protect and maintain order,” she says.

Stress related

This hardship, says Jebitok, can be corrected by the ongoing reforms in the different forces but the stress-related issues can only be handled through guidance and counselling.

Jebitok says the stresses originate from their homes and are ‘transferred’ to the offices and vice versa.

Pastor Samson Onyango, who is also a counsellor, says when officers are undergoing their course, the focus should include spiritual welfare and not strictly professional training only.

“If you train a person how to maintain law and order or to make sure that prisoners are well guarded through the military approach, then when the person is stressed he or she will only think of how to deal with the issues by what they learnt during the trainings, which has been deadly in some instances,” says Onyango.

The officers’ stress also stems from the fact that when they have a problem or complaint, there is no independent institution they can turn to for help. This then means their frustrations are bottled up, demoralising them.

Another counsellor, Joseph Otieno, says: “If we create an institution that is much like a confessions’ box in Catholic churches, then we can check the cases of killings and maiming in the disciplined forces.”

In counselling, one learns that the best way to get out of the blues is to talk about what is stressing one with a trustworthy person.

Superintendent Keino says his officers have shown improvement since the guidance and counselling sessions started at the facility.

“We are seeing a general positive attitude towards work and yet the team has only visited us twice. The effect is tremendous and we are seeing the change at the warders’ quarters and in the offices,” said Keino.

But he points out that killing colleagues is not a preserve of the police or disciplined forces but also other professions in Kenya.

“We have heard of killings by teachers and even casual labourers over petty issues like love triangles or money,” says Keino.

But then, uniformed officers’ reasons for killing are also ‘petty’.

For example, there are some who have killed themselves for being denied leave.

Perhaps, the guidance and counselling sessions will help them deal with emotional turmoil’s instead of solving their problems military style – through the gun.

 

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Edwin Mwanza
    Aug 06, 2014 @ 12:10:14

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