For more than a decade, he lived in the shadow of death after being sentenced to the gallows for robbery with violence in August 1991.
The death sentence was later commuted to life in jail, saving Samuel Kahiga from the hangman’s noose. His life has been an emotional roller-coaster.
Released last week from the Naivasha Maximum Security Prison, Mr Kahiga was one of the longest-serving inmates, having had a stint at Kibos and Kamiti.
Cumulatively, the 56-year-old ex-convict stayed behind bars for 31 years, before he secured his freedom through a court process commonly known as re-sentencing.
When the firmly secured doors were finally opened on Friday, he grinned from ear to ear, sighed with relief, before looking back in utter disbelief. He was clearly overwhelmed by the moment. But he walked into a world unknown, one he had bid goodbye to 31
“At one point, I gave up on ever leaving jail. Being released was a miracle for me,” said an emotional Mr Kahiga.
Before exiting the highly guarded prison, he was mobbed by some of his colleagues, who adored his resilience, with some weeping as they bid him bye.
On Saturday, Mr Kahiga, dressed in an immaculate jungle green suit, beige shirt, black tie and shiny brown shoes started his journey back to his Malewa village in Kipipiri Constituency, escorted by the chaplain in charge of the facility, Rev Kennedy Chumo.
He sat pensively inside Mr Chumo’s car, lost in thought, and a current of emotion sweeping him away, as family members waited outside the prison gate.
He relived the bitter-sweet memories after being jailed in the early 90s.
As a capital offender, he was treated like a pariah, only allowed 30 minutes to bask in the sun before being taken back to the cell.
Always in handcuffs
“When interacting with the others, I was always in handcuffs. Being shackled was a cardinal rule for death row inmates,” he remembered.
Retracing the steps that sent him to prison, he has his bosom buddies to blame.
“I was a victim of my own machinations. I became greedy and paid the price,” he opened up.
“It is true that I was involved in an armed robbery and the incident took place in Kisumu. I was lured by my friends with the promise of quick money,” he said.
He narrated how he was approached by a group of friends, who asked him to loan them Sh800 to fuel their vehicle.
“At the time, I was a scrap metal dealer and was also in the business of selling soup. It was here that my partners in crime bumped into me,” he recalled.
He added: “I asked them to refund my money with interest, but they convinced me about a ‘lucrative’ offer on the table. They asked me to join them on a robbery mission. They made it look easy, intimating that we would walk away with Sh300,000,” he said.
He joined them, but their mission fell flat because the Asian businessman they were to attack had deposited the money minutes earlier.
“But we went ahead and robbed him of other valuables, including his vehicle,” he said.
One of the accomplices did not play to the script and used the stolen car as a taxi, before investigators finally caught up with him.
“He blew our cover after being cornered by the police and we were smoked out from our hideout one after the other.”
His life in crime was cut short at the first attempt, earning him years in jail.
“Crime does not pay,” he warned.
The last time he enjoyed freedom, the late President Daniel Arap Moi was still in power and mobile phones were a distant dream.
On Saturday, he walked into unfamiliar terrain, free from the shackles and watchful eye of mean prison officers.
When he stepped out of the main gate, his relatives ululated with joy, emotional tears flowing freely as one of his nieces fainted, the reunion rekindling fond moments that had begun to fade away as days went by.
They jostled around him, each wanting to give him a warm hug, and he duly obliged. For three decades, they had never had such a moment and no one wanted to miss out.
“I am still in a state of disbelief. Having exhausted all the appeal channels, I had resigned to fate,” said Mr Kahiga.
At his home, friends and relatives gave him a heroic welcome, lifting him shoulder-high.
Before he was sentenced, he was loved due to his ability to organise communal work.
His 95-year-old grandmother, holding onto a walking stick, wept uncontrollably, firm grip on her grandson’s hand, as he led him to the family house. She was over the moon with joy.
Her singular wish in her sunset years, she confessed, was to see her grandson released from prison. It happened and she was content. His former schoolmate and current Ndurumo Secondary School Principal Henry Muthui was also present, extolling the virtues of the ex-convict.
“He (Mr Kahiga) was the deputy head boy at Wanjohi Secondary School and achieving such status at the time was a result of hard work and discipline,” he recalled.
He said the two had formed an unbreakable bond that saw Mr Muthui regularly visit his friend in prison.
For the first time since he went to prison, Mr Kahiga revealed to villagers snippets of what transpired before he was handed a death sentence.
Mr Chumo, the chaplain, described the ex-convict as a reformed prisoner who was an inspiration to others and earned certifications in several trades, including a grade one in carpentry.
“He was also a trained theologian and was fondly referred to as an evangelist behind bars.”
“His release was timely,” said the chaplain. The officer in charge of the Naivasha prison, Hassan Tari, described the former inmate as an “inspiration and role model to many”.
He hailed his mentorship programme, saying, he had helped many inmates to mend their way while serving their sentence.