WIMA is a Swahili word that means, straight, upright, erect or firm. It carries with it the allusion of remaining steadfast and unwavering. This is in relation to the unfortunate event of spousal incarceration. WIMA is also an acronym for Wives of incarcerated Men Advocacy. This predominantly women led outfit with a few supportive men is intended to be the bastion of every accessible woman whose spouse for whatever reason is incarcerated. WIMA will be able to operate a 24 hour helpline to provide basic legal information related to incidental incarceration. It will be the balm to turn to in the immediate anxious moments following spousal arrest to soothe the strained nerves by giving explanations relating to the due processes to be followed in dealing with the arrested spouse. Correct information is critical in taming anxiety, and WIMA will be there to avail this essential service through its widespread offices and networks initially, within the counties of Kakamega, Vihiga, Bungoma and Busia in Kenya.
Alongside information provision, WIMA hopes to provide legal representation to its clients ranging from pro bono, subsidized, to fully charged services, depending on case by case circumstances and capabilities. WIMA also hopes to empower its clients through various income generating activities, educational support for their children and psychological counseling.
Spousal incarceration affects millions of families including some that become single-parents households overnight. The trauma of spousal incarceration borders on bereavement as it brings on the weight of an unexpected burden creating a new normal and flipping one’s world upside down. A prisoner’s wife suffers a similar fate with a widow. An article by Barrett (1977, pp.856-868), highlights the plight of widows in this vivid description;
“As a minority group, they (widows) suffer from sexism, ageism and in some cases, racism. All of them suffer because they are perceived to be carriers and transmitters of the reality of death (separation). They may be abused by bureaucracies and insensitive professionals, shunned by relatives and former friends, exploited by racketeers and Don Juans, discriminated against by employers and berated by others in similar circumstances. They belong to a subculture whose members live in relative oblivion, submerged in the despair of loneliness, chiding each other for self-pity, advising each other to keep busy individually, hoping for an avenue of escape and collectively succumbing to an attitude of hopelessness”
This very similar treatment by society is served out on its female members upon the incarceration of their male spouses. They suffer just as if their “missing in action” spouses were dead.
A research conducted by Daniel, (1981, pp 310-322), assessed the needs of prisoner’s wives in six areas (information, finances, relationships with friends, family relationships, grief, and relationships with children). High levels of need were found in each area. Results suggested the need of giving more information to the women at the time of their husbands’ trials and the formation of self-help groups (for fortification and belonging).
The stigmatization that prison wives feel because they are married to an inmate, can affect how attached they feel to their community, how comfortable they feel in their workplace, and how accepted they feel by their family and friends. Financial exploitation, challenging prison policies, and visitation procedures oftentimes can make an already difficult situation even more difficult.
In spite of all these proven need of intervention in the plight of wives of incarcerated men, not much has been initiated in terms of services. Even firms like Justice-Defender (a non-profit registered in UK and US and working in Kenya and Uganda), and Muhuri-Kenya, only have outfits addressing the general legal challenges affecting men women and youths by equipping the accused, informing the indicted and educating the incarcerated. No effort specifically targets prison spouses. The social service and welfare wing of the correctional services on the other hand focus more on rehabilitation and cutting down on recidivism. The closest touch they have with WIMA related activity is facilitating prison visits for inmates.
Man is a social being. We thrive on close association and free interaction. The limitations and restrictions occasioned by Covid 19 strained society and exposed our under-belly. The cherished hand-shakes and hugs were proscribed as conduits of spreading the corona virus. Isolations and quarantines further complicated the situation. Owing to the susceptible prison settings, the outside was protectively isolated from the correctional facilities. Prison visits were suspended.
The suspension of visiting inmates created anxiety not only to the incarcerated, but also to their families who had no access to their well being. Places of worship and other social gatherings were banned. The ban on access to worship places in Kenya aggravated the situation. The support systems were stretched at the seams threatening to burst. There followed an increase in both domestic and gender based violence attributed to the heightened levels of societal stress in which the economy was doing badly.
With the backdrop of the predominantly patriarchal system in Kenya, women bore the brunt of the sudden unexpected circumstances as a vulnerable gender. The worst hit of women, were those “widowed” by spousal incarceration. They could not contact their spouses. They lacked the counsel of their spiritual leaders and the caring from their worship place congregation. It all seemed like everyone was looking out just for their own selves. It was difficult for prison wives to stand firm. They lacked a support framework. A frame work to provide psychological counseling, to reign in a sense of belonging, to insulate from the harsh effects of hard economic times, to provide legal counsel and to give the much needed information on the welfare of their spouses not only locked behind bars, but now cut-off by the covid-19 situation.
With the apparent lack of purposive initiatives targeting Wives of incarcerated men, WIMA’s advent will be a service of a kind in championing a fundamental human rights question.
GOALS OF THE PROJECT/OBJECTIVES
WIMA project hopes to achieve the following goals through its activities:
- To provide legal representation to wives of incarcerated men seeking this service from WIMA.
- To provide correct and timely information on processes and procedures of the criminal- justice system to spouses following the incarceration of their husbands.
- To facilitate continuity in education for the children whose fathers have been incarcerated as sought by the female spouses.
- To organize women whose husbands have been incarcerated into a network of support groups for companionship and belonging whenever they come up.
- To facilitate psychological counseling services for wives of incarcerated men.
- To facilitate the setting up of income generating activities in liaison with wives of incarcerated men to boost their economic status
- To advocate for the plight of wives of incarcerated men through policy making organs of state.
- To enlist a legal firm in each of the four initial counties to work with WIMA in providing negotiated legal services.
- To establish a help-line council in each county of operation consisting of; a counselor, a health professional, a social worker, religious leader, a psychologist and a representative of the county Police service public relations office.
- To set up four 24-hour help-lines in each county for around the clock consultations by WIMA clients.
- To set up a WIMA support group with its mentor/moderator in each sub-county of the counties of operation.
- To provide a minimum of 1000 documented WIMA services to clients in one year.
- To initiate 100 income generating activities each not more than ksh.15,000 for assorted WIMA clients.
- To facilitate the continuation of schooling for 100 WIMA children at a cost of not more than Ksh 40, 000 each per year.
- To conduct a mid-term and end term qualitative and quantitative survey for rendered WIMA services.