After being convicted and sentenced to death in 1982 by the high court at Masaka, Eddie Mary Mpagi and Fred Masembe were taken to Luzira upper prison, to await their execution.
Mpagi had been in prison since 1981, he had been arrested together with his cousin Masembe, for allegedly murdering George William Wandyaka, who was later found to be alive.
“It was alleged that we robbed and stabbed him; so, at first I was arrested with my cousin. But that same night, they also brought in our parents, who were later released,” says Mpagi.
He claims it was a plot by people who had wrangles with their family to have them tortured.
In 1983 during President Obote’s regime they asked for the ‘prerogative of mercy’ (Pardon from the president), but got it not until he was overthrown.
“I knew things would not be easy but I still hoped that someday we would be set free since we were innocent,” says Mpagi.
However, in 1985, Masembe died in prison and Mpagi had to walk the rough journey alone. He then had no other option but to cling onto God for help.
Later, according to Mpagi, the local authorities established that Wandyaka (now deceased) who he had allegedly murdered was alive. They wrote to the Attorney General seeking pardon for the accused.
A group was sent to investigate more and finally confirmed that the duo had been wrongly charged. This, however, did not set them free; Attorney-Generals kept changing and when the judge handling their case died, the process stagnated. Mpagi stayed in Prison until July 2000 when President Museveni pardoned him.
Life in prison
Mpagi, a young Catholic man at the time he was arrested, stuck to his faith because he believed that his innocence would only be justified by God. Shortly before Masembe died, Mpagi says he got a vision from God, which made him stronger.
“God told me: ‘Fasten yourself and be strong for I am with you.’ When I asked Him when these things would be, He ordered me to keep my beard and hair until He had fulfilled his plan for me.” he says
And for 15 years, Mpagi never shaved neither his beard nor his hair and surprisingly not even the prison authorities complained about it.
While there, he started teaching fellow prisoners about God and also started a school to teach them how to read and write.
“I was not a teacher by profession, but at least I could teach them the basics of reading and writing, with the aim of helping them read the scripture,” says Mpagi.
In 1983, Mpagi received a Bible from Fr John Sweeny, a Mill Hill father who was doing prison ministry then. It is this Bible that became his best friend and he used it to start Bible study.
Mpagi became a religious leader, and also became responsible for marking the World Bible league examinations of the entire Luzira prison, helped by Rev Ssentumbwe of Church of Uganda.
He also wrote in the Leadership magazine forgiving all the people who had landed him in jail.
And after Prison
When he was finally pardoned, like many others, he did not know where to start. He had studied agriculture before being arrested but he was not ready to start practicing it.
Before he could even reconnect with his family members (who were still alive), he joined a group of Franciscan Prison Ministers in Kamwokya parish, who had been helpful while in prison. He looked for a better way to thank God and he finally made a decision to study catechism (teaching religion).
“I wanted to do many things, but I chose to go to Kiyinda Mityana and study catechism, just to thank God for fulfilling His plan for me.”
Mpagi now serves as a catechist, and also serves with the Franciscan Prison Ministry led by Sr. Antoinette, a white missionary sister.
They do regular prison visits to pray, encourage, sensitize and counsel prisoners.
He committed himself to prison ministry; he is now a strong advocate for the rights of prisoners and against the death penalty. He also recently joined the Missionaries of Custody, an organization sensitizing communities about crime prevention. Mpagi is currently working on a project to help children of prisoners study and live well.
“My children did not study; there was no one to help them. It hurts me [even] now, the reason I want to help other prisoners’ children, so that they don’t go through what mine went through.”