My children got married when i was in prison.

My name is Akumu Margaret, a 39-year old mother of eight children. I bake and sell doughnuts at Pajule trading centre in Pader District. In August 2013, I was imprisoned for assault following a bitter struggle with my sister in law.

I lost my husband in 2008 and decided to stay in my marital home to raise my children. While he was sick, his brother asked to come live with us so he can support and I accepted. Unfortunately, he had unknown plans of taking over my husband’s property in case he died. Immediately my husband passed on, my brother in-law and his family started fighting for his property and I had to be pushed away because I was looked at as a stumbling block. I was told their late brother’s property also belonged to them.

Earlier in 2012, I could not walk because I felt a lot of pain in my legs. I had no excuse but to put the blame on my sister in-law and her husband because I thought they were bewitching me for refusing to hand over my late husband’s property to them. From that incident, we started developing hatred towards each other. Later on, I developed misunderstandings with her over land until one day when we engaged in a physical fight. I was arrested and taken to Pader Police Station. After spending eleven days in police custody, i was arraigned before court from where I was proved guilty. I was then asked to pay a fine of Shs500,000.

No money to buy freedom

Since I did not have the money ready with me, I was remanded to Kineni Prison in Pader where I stayed for six months and later sentenced to three years and transferred to Gulu women Prison. While in prison, my children had no caretaker. Their uncle didn’t offer any help to them. Some of my relatives took the younger ones to live with them but the older girls had to fend for themselves in all possible ways, including early marriage. I didn’t blame them although I wouldn’t have encouraged it if I were free.

At Gulu women prison, I received training in animal husbandry, basket weaving, making jewelry and baking from the African Prisons Project (APP). Despite the good training, I wasn’t sure what I would do when I returned home because I knew I had lost everything. One day, I met Prison Social Workers talking about an organisation that offers entrepreneurship and life skills training to prison inmates. I later learnt that the organisation not only empowers but also supports ex-prison inmates to change their life after prison. I immediately expressed interest and in the course of training, we were guided to write business plans. I chose baking because I had knowledge about it and it was the easiest thing I could do.

Gates of freedom open

In January 2016 when I was set free after serving my sentence, I did not go back to my late husband’s home. Instead I went to live in another area because I wanted a fresh start. I wanted to fend for my children who survived without a single parent for three years while I was away. I decided to rent a house at Lapete Village, Paluo parish, Pajule Sub County in Pader district at Shs10,000 per month. After settling in my new home, I was visited by a team from Uganda Prisons and Advance Afrika. I later received a table, bucket, frying pan, saucepan and one carton of wheat flour to begin my business. I started by baking doughnuts. Since my business was home based, my first customers were the retail shops near my home and students from a nearby school.

I started my business with two packets of wheat flour but I currently use six on a daily basis. On a good day, I make profits of at least Shs10,000 and it is from these profits that I earn a living to take care of my family, pay school fees for my younger children, pay rent, among other responsibilities.

 

My goal is to struggle and see my children through school because they are bright and performing well. I also plan to save and buy land and build a house so that they can have a permanent home.