Joseph ‘Jowie’ Irungu, who is charged with the gruesome murder of a woman in Nairobi last year, and who cut the image of a tough-as-nails mercenary when the story first broke, now says prison has given him a glimpse of a life he would never wish on anyone, and that life behind bars has shown him who his real friends are.
His elderly parents, he told a local daily in an interview on Friday, have been travelling from their home in Nakuru County to visit him in remand at Kamiti Maximum Prison every week without fail.
This is despite the fact that, because he is detained in isolation, his visitors are allowed to chat with him for just 10 minutes, and they have to wait for long to get clearance.
“At least every Tuesday, my parents come to see me. They travel from Nakuru to Kiambu every week,” he said in his first interview since he was first implicated in the murder of Ms Kimani.
“Since this is a maximum security prison, you can imagine someone who left Nakuru at 6am to come and see you early is given only 10 minutes to talk to you. And it’s strictly 10 minutes.”
The dedication of his parents seems to have mellowed him the most, and not the gravity of the charges against him and how his life could change dramatically should he be convicted.
Keen to persuade the court to deny Jowie his bail application, the prosecution painted the picture of a man who is well versed in handling advanced weapons, but who, for lack of a source of income since 2017, lived on the benevolence of others.
The prosecution referred the court to viral photos of Jowie posing with large guns for which he did not produce a licence. Describing him as a dangerous man, the prosecution said he posed great danger to witnesses should he be released. The judge agreed.
Witnesses have told the court hearing his case that Jowie often introduced himself as an undercover security operative working with Interpol.
On Friday, he told said that he is one of only nine prisoners kept under isolation at Kamiti. That means he never gets to speak to any other prisoner throughout his stay or interact with fellow inmates in any way while inside the precincts of Kenya’s largest detention facility. Even wardens from other areas of the prison, he said, are not allowed to get close to his cell.
Solitary confinement means he cannot be transported to hospital like most other prisoners. A medic is brought to him instead. Being in solitary confinement also means the time he is out of his cell for the day – from 6 am to 5.30 pm – can only be spent sunbathing and reading books between the three meals, the last that comes at 4.30pm.
And if he wants a book to read, he has to make an application in writing, give it to the officers guarding him who will in turn give it to the officers in charge of the library. If the application is approved, he gets the book.
His confinement status means he is alone most times, confronting the ghosts within him and sometimes fighting the gutsy mosquitoes of Kamiti.
“Staying here has made me realise that mosquitoes can be ruthless. Mosquito nets are a luxury. Your work is to fight with the insects, crushing them against the wall.
When the body of Ms Kimani was discovered in her Nairobi apartment, the cruel manner in which she died sent shock waves across the nation, with detectives puzzling over certain aspects of a crime they described as having been carried out by a “highly trained killer”.
They, for example, wondered why the slain woman appeared not to have struggled as her hands were tied behind her back and her mouth taped shut.
Her body did not have injuries consistent with a big struggle against an assailant, and there were no signs of struggle in the apartment, as one would expect. A police source told the local media at the time that Monica was tied up “like a goat”.
“We know they had been taking wine,” the source noted, and wondered: “Was she drugged?”
The drugging angle would be consistent with the profile of the person that the police believe carried out the murder: A meticulous planner and trained killer who thought about the crime seriously in advance and covered his tracks.
Assuming the killer acted alone and was known and trusted by the victim, then the most likely explanation for the lack of a struggle could be that he either tricked her to allow herself to be tied, or just drugged her.
Jowie says friends from as far as Dubai have been coming to visit him in prison and that, despite the miles they cover across the oceans, they are not allowed to be with him for more than the standard 10 minutes.
“Some of my friends think they’ll have 30 minutes or one hour of speaking with me. They are given 10 minutes and wonder: ‘We took a flight to come talk to you for 10 minutes, surely?’” he lamented.
But the visits have been few and far between.
“Now is when you know people who care, people who matter, people who have your back.”
Should he wish to make calls using the welfare phone provided, he said, he is entitled to a maximum of five minutes.
“We are Kenyans, and our greetings last five minutes. With that, I can’t say anything with my lawyer or ask him for one thing or the other. What can you say in five minutes?” he posed.
Given the tough conditions in jail, Jowie has been counting the days he has been locked up. They stood at 431 when he was last in court on Thursday, when Monica’s brother, George, who schooled with Jowie at Kenya Polytechnic, testified.
He told the court that Jowie was no stranger to Monica’s house, and that he had communicated with her on the evening of September 19, 2018, the day she died. He said he also called Jowie shortly after discovering Monica’s body.
After the hearing, the presiding judge, Justice James Wakiaga, revisited the issue of Jowie’s release on bond, asking the lawyers in the case to prepare to argue for Jowie’s release after the protected witnesses in the case have testified.
Jowie took that chance to directly address the judge about his plight, saying the fact that he had not been convicted left him entitled to bond.
“I am really suffering,” he pleaded.
On Thursday, the court will hear the application for his release on bond and is expected to make its determination the same day or later. The judge had denied him bond in a ruling of October 30, 2018 on grounds that he might interfere with witnesses.
“The picture that emerges of the accused is that he is of such a character that his presence at large would intimidate witnesses and use his liberty to tamper with evidence. The family of the deceased has expressed this fear,” the judge stated at the time.
Justice Wakiaga then ordered that Jowie be placed under protective custody, owing to the fact that he was nursing a gunshot wound. The court, however, released former news anchor Jacque Maribe, Jowie’s co-accused, on Ksh. 2 million bond or Ksh. 1 million cash bail, with three sureties.