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Maximum-Security Kenya Prison Hosts TEDx Talks

A prison inmate in Nairobi who founded a crime-prevention group while behind bars wants people to think about how to solve "the perennial security challenge that faces the country and faces the world in the most cost-efficient manner.”

“The time to deal with crime is now," said Peter Ouko, 45, who was convicted of murder and has spent 17 years of his life sentence in the Kamiti maximum-security prison.

Ouko was one of 10 speakers at a daylong multimedia presentation inside the prison compound. This was an independently organized event, part of the TEDx program that brings together people of varied backgrounds for conferences in sometimes unusual venues — like prisons.

Speakers at Friday's event in Kenya included artists, educators, prison officials and inmates, and the audience of about 250 consisted mostly of inmates. Most presentations touched on crime, crime prevention, education and expression.

Ouko's activist group — "Crime Si Poa," which is Kiswahili for "crime is not cool” — teaches about the consequences of criminal behavior and how to change course before it’s too late.

“We’re not only thinking about the inmates, we’re also thinking about the victims. But the great thing about Kamiti and the prisons in Kenya is that those who are guilty really accept and seek a second chance,” he said.

Ouko, 45, is still hoping for a second chance of his own. An interior designer by trade, he recently earned his law degree in prison. “I’m serving life imprisonment, but every day I wake up with the hope that I’ll go home tomorrow,” he said.

Organizers from TEDx orchestrated Friday's event with Alexander McLean, founder of the African Prisons Project. McLean has worked in Kenyan and Ugandan prisons for the last 12 years. He said Kamiti offers opportunities for inmates, like a school, a well-stocked library, industrial workshops, and the option for students to study for law degrees.

He said other prison systems should take note.

“In terms of the way that prisoners and prison staff work together to bring change, in terms of the way the prison staff take great pride seeing the lives of their prisoners change, I think this is a message that the world’s ready to hear, because they way we’re imprisoning people isn’t working,” McLean said.