The juvenile criminal court session associated with the Pilot Program we are running in Kampala officially opened on Monday. All sixteen cases involving children imprisoned in the Naguru Remand Home were given a trial date over the course of the next three weeks. The first is scheduled to start on Wednesday. If things go according to plan, we will resolve via plea bargaining a substantial portion of these cases on Wednesday.
Since nothing was scheduled to happen in court today, I took the opportunity to drive up to Masindi in an effort to finalize the arrangements for Round Two of the Pilot Program that will focus on more than twenty juveniles imprisoned in the Ihungu Remand Home. A little over a month ago, Joline, Henry, and I journeyed to Ihungu to visit the prison where my relationship with Henry began and to scout out the possibility of a return trip in an effort to deliver justice to these forgotten children. I previously posted about this trip here.
Over the past month, a plan has emerged. Two of my colleagues at Pepperdine Law – Jay Milbrandt (Global Justice Program Director) and Carol Chase (Associate Dean for Academics) – will land in Kampala on Friday, June 15th. They will be joined by Michael Mudgett (Associate Pastor at Malibu Presbyterian who, like me, is a recovering lawyer) and his wife, Karen. After seeing some animals at Murchison Falls National Park, this group will arrive in Masindi on Sunday. The ten Pepperdine law students who are currently interning for judges in Kampala will also join us in Masindi on Sunday. Rounding out the group will be a few representatives of Children’s Justice Initiative Ministries (aka Sixty Feet), the American faith-based organization headquartered in Atlanta that is funding the Pilot Program in Kampala and providing some badly needed goods and services for imprisoned and abandoned children in Uganda. The full group will work directly with Ugandan defense lawyers to assist in moving the children’s cases toward a just resolution. A few of the inmates have been at Ihungu since the last time a Pepperdine group of lawyers came to help – more than two years ago.
Since my oldest daughter has been on the road doing medical missions with the Gregston family quite a bit over the past couple of months, and since today was an “off” day for the clinics, I invited Jessica to accompany me on the day trip north. We ventured off at 6:00 a.m. I rode in the back seat with Jessica while Michael chauffeured us for the three-hour trip. We had some good father/daughter time on the way up. It is simultaneously heartening and heartbreaking to see the little girl who used to climb onto my lap with a book and instruct me to “read!” now becoming a woman right before my eyes. I am going to cry like a Sooner losing to a Longhorn when she finally leaves home. No matter when that happens, I won’t even be close to ready for it.
The day went more like expected than planned. We first met with the Legal Aid lawyers who will be the counsel of record for each of the juveniles. One the two lawyers in the office had been there two years ago and remembered the briefs we had prepared back then. She was grateful that we are coming back and has agreed to be much more directly involved in preparing the cases for trial this time around. My next meeting was cancelled when I learned the person with whom I was scheduled to meet was still in Kampala. This type of cancellation is not planned, but expected in Uganda. Jessica and I then drove out to Ihungu to check in on the prisoners. While there, we met with the probation officer, Mr. William, with whom I became close during the challenges we faced in getting Henry freed two years ago. As always, he was eager to help and grateful for our assistance. He informed me that since I was there with Joline and Henry over a month ago, one of the juveniles had escaped, a couple others had been released, and one had arrived. Jessica and I, with the help of Michael’s interpreting skills, conducted a quick interview to ascertain the vital statistics of the new prisoner and took his picture. The lone remaining female prisoner showed Jessica where she slept and gave her a quick tour of the prison.
From there, we headed back to town for my 11:30 meeting with a court official. That meeting was then postponed and didn’t happen until nearly 2:00 p.m. While we waited, Jessica and I got a soda and pulled out our computers in the courtyard of The Masindi Hotel. Vivid memories of early mornings and tense nights in this same courtyard tumbled back from two years ago as if made two weeks ago. I strongly suspect a garden full of unforgettable memories will bloom in this same courtyard two weeks from now.
Eventually, we were able to meet two DPP officers (prosecutors) and the court official before setting off for Kampala again. Both meetings went quite well and everyone seems to understand and appreciate their tasks in making the project work. As always, the execution remains the unknown.
Tonight, Jessica sets off again for six days with the Gregstons on another medical mission trip. Though we miss her dearly when she is gone, we know that she is right where God wants her, as He prepares her for a life of service in the medical field.