The allegory of the human mind is a mystery. Two individuals can be beleaguered by a similar predicament. Yet in one’s mind, there will be a reverberation of optimistic thoughts; while the other, may be spelled with doomed existence. Well, this is just a precedent of the prevailing thought processes of inmates.

While many may describe incarceration as a second-by-second assault on the soul, others may term it to be a tremendous learning experience that tests one’s patience and perseverance.  Either way, it all begins in the mind. The visualization of an opportunity to exploit available avenues even in the face of restrained freedom; or, the envisage of the inauguration of a degenerated life, at the site of the glaring prison bars.

Well, there is more to incarcerations than the perceived rusty, unforgiving prison bars. Baking in prisons provides this shift in perception. Similarly to counselling, baking is a productive form of self-expression. It eases and gives the mind a break from stress; ultimately, reducing anxiety and building collective euphoria. 

What makes baking so special? To begin with, anybody can bake, regardless of experience level. It doesn’t come with a set of social rules nor a need for skill. Baking suits a lot of different personalities; it can be played safe by sticking to the true recipes, or tried in any other way. Baking doesn’t judge. At the end of it, the baker is rewarded with something delicious, whether it’s the world’s best homemade bread, or some creation that doesn’t even have a name. The results in itself bring satisfaction, happiness, togetherness, better understanding and harmony.

With baking, it doesn’t matter how careful one is, or how well one plans everything. The cocoa powder is going to explode; the extra milk will spill in. However, baking forgives. Yes, the science behind baking requires necessary steps to create the desired treat, however, one may accidentally add in an extra half cup of flour and odds are nobody is going to notice that much of a difference. 

Sometimes mistakes just happen. A times, we even try our best to dodge breaking the simplest rules. But well, call it intentionally breaking the law or being hit with misfortune, we find ourselves conflicting with the long arm of the law.  Then we are left at the mercy of the judge.

Unfortunately, the judge slams the gavel down on his desk, and just like that, a prison sentence is passed. A person is given that dreaded name, “prisoner”. Then prison life happens. While inmates may not have the power to change that which has happened to them, they are accorded an opportunity to learn behind bars. Baking demonstrates that when such occurrences happens, something good may come out of it. The baking process gives one control and freedom to learn from mistakes.

Why not then give inmates the liberty to be in control of creating this atmosphere for themselves?

Mr. Tom, a pseudonym of course; an inmate at the Nairobi West Correctional Facility, was the first to admit that he had been struggling with behavioral problems while serving his time. Baking reminds him of his mother who owns a cake shop. “I had a problem holding myself together if I didn’t get my way,” he said; referring to incidents where he would lash out at his fellow inmates. However, baking gives him a sense of connectedness and the smell of baked goods reminds him of home. Baking brought to him a sense of accomplishment and something to be proud of.

Mr. Tom chants while playing a guitar during baking classes. His face, an epitome of joy. Baking is part of a memory that will live on forever in his mind!

Written by Agatha Mungai

Professional Lead Baker and Trainer|| NAFISIKA TRUST


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