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Winning a Fight for Freedom and Reform In Uganda

LOSING HOPE  
Henry was 16 years old and a model student at school in Uganda. Going to college was a dream for Henry but he knew the odds were against him.  One out of 20 Ugandans attend university.  Deep down, Henry knew his family couldn’t afford to send him so he worked hard on his grades to keep his scholarships.  Then in June 2008, all the money his mother, who was a baker, was saving under the mattress at home had been stolen.  The villagers found the thief, beat him to death and left him at Henry’s house.  Henry’s dad, not knowing where the thief’s relatives were, buried the man in the field.  The next day, Henry’s family was arrested on murder charges.  Henry and his brother were brought to a detention center; their mother was released a week later and their dad was imprisoned.  They thought they would be released soon.  The only thing that gave them hope in prison was their mom, a Christian, who reminded the boys about believing the promises of God.

A year later, Henry was losing hope of ever being released.  “If only God would send a sign,” thought Henry.  In 2009, Rose, who was a task master at the detention center, forced Henry to cane Innocent, one of the prisoners who was sick and not perfoming his tasks.  She also ordered Innocent to be buried in the ground to his neck. After Rose ordered him to be unburied, he resumed work. The next day, he tried to escape, but was captured and punished again. Later that day, he died.  Henry blamed himself.  Rose was arrested for Innocent’s death but Henry was also charged with his murder. 

HALFWAY AROUND THE WORLD
Meanwhile, in the fall of 2009, Jim attended a Christian Legal Society Conference where bestselling author Bob Goff was speaking.  Bob was recounting his visit to a juvenile prison in Kampala in Uganda who needed legal assistance.  “It seemed as if Bob were talking exclusively to me,” says Jim.  So he decided to make a trip to Uganda.  “I had no idea the extent to which my life would be changed forever,” says Jim.  “I just knew I needed to go.”  On January 6, 2010, Jim landed in Uganda where he and his team were tasked with preparing prisoners’ cases for trial. 

As they reviewed the cause list which contained the names of children and the charges against them, Jim realized Henry was a juvenile who was listed for murder twice.  The team chose Henry and 20 other cases.  When Henry called his mom to tell her American lawyers were helping him get released, she cried.  “I thanked God for answering our prayers,” says Henry.

In March 2010, both of Henry’s cases went to court and Jim spoke to Henry every day on his cell phone from California.  (Henry was allowed a cell phone in the detention center because he was in charge of the prisoners.)  The case against Henry, Joseph and their father was dismissed.  Henry was happy that his father and brother were released.  In April 2010, Henry was found guilty of murdering Innocent.  Jim decided to go back to Uganda to help.  “I just knew I needed to be there,’ says Jim. “After the ruling, I was very sad,” says Henry.  “I kept asking God why this was happening, but I tried to trust Him and kept praying.”  Jim also began meeting with the high ranking judicial officals.  They asked him if he would consider moving to Uganda to help refine their juvenile justice systems and integrate a form of plea bargaining.   Jim worked on Henry’s case for a week and returned home.  In May 2010, the judge released Henry on probation and that’s when Jim decided to become a Ugandan lawyer to appeal Henry’s case. 

In January 2012, Jim and his family moved to Uganda for 6 months.   Henry’s appeal was originally scheduled for February 2012 but was postponed numerous times.  The case wouldn’t be heard while Jim was living there.  “At least that meant I’d be returning to Uganda,” he says.  In March 2013, Jim became the first American lawyer to argue in a Uganda court.  In June 2015, Henry’s conviction was overturned!  After 5 years, the waiting was over.  Henry was finally exonerated.  Today he is in medical school.  His father passed away in 2014 from liver cancer.  “Some adults wait 3 to 5 years without a lawyer and a trial date,” says Jim.  “Today they are making excellent progress in their legal system.” 

Jim was awarded the Warren Christopher Award as California’s International Lawyer of the Year in the fall 2013.  A documentary film crew followed his team to chronicle their 2014 summer prison project.  Joseph is finishing up his education and hopes to attend law school in 2016. 

Mentioned in the Video

 

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Guest Info

Guests
Credits

Jim:

Professor of Law, Pepperdine University School of Law

Director of Global Justice Program, Pepperdine’s Nootbaar Institute for Law, Religion, and Ethics

Author: Divine Collision, Worthy Publishing, 2016

Henry:

Medical student, Kampala International University, graduates in 2020

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