At 15 years old, Tumusiime Henry’s entire life changed within the matter of days. The whirlwind began when a trusted herdsman stole his family’s savings. A mob hunted down the thief and beat him to death despite Henry’s father’s pleas to let him go. Then, Henry remembers sitting in school when he, his brother and his father were arrested for the herdsmen’s murder. From that day on, Henry sat in prison, waiting for Uganda’s painfully slow criminal justice system to try him for a murder he did not commit.
Through the ordeal, he says his mother always had encouraging words for him. Even if she had to sell her cattle to visit her wrongfully-imprisoned sons and husband, and even when Henry asked her to stop visiting because he was charged with a second murder he did not commit, she never abandoned him. “Stay strong,” she would tell him. “Nothing lasts forever, except the word of God.”
Now 24, with his prison days behind him, the exonerated Henry is well on his way to become a cardiologist. Learn more about Henry’s story in the Link Voices film “Remand” and his interview below, in which he discusses his friendship with Jim Gash, the Pepperdine University attorney who helped him regain his freedom.
How old were you when you were arrested? How old were you when you were finally released on probation?
Tumusiime Henry: My birthday is March 18, 1993, so I was 15 when I was arrested in May of 2008. I was released on probation in April of 2010, shortly after I turned 17.
Describe a typical day in the remand home. What did it mean to be elected Katikiro of the remand home?
We also sang and prayed at night every night. Many times, we fasted as we prayed for someone to come and help us.
TH: Life was very hard in the remand home. The matron would wake us up early and take us to farms to work all day at someone’s farm. She would keep the money that was paid for our work. We ate the same thing every day. In the morning, we drank porridge made from water and ground corn. At lunch would have posho and beans. Posho is ground corn and water that is the same thing as the porridge, but thicker. At dinner, we would have posho and beans also. Sometimes, we got to eat cassava. This is like a potato. Once every month or two, we would get chicken or beef, but only a couple bites.
After I was there for six months, I was appointed to be the Katikkiro, which meant I was the prime minister. After that, I started a school for the other juveniles and tried to teach them to read and to do mathematics. We also began playing football (soccer) every day after we worked in the field. We also sang and prayed at night every night. Many times, we fasted as we prayed for someone to come and help us.
Did you have a chance to see your brother and father while you were on remand? Did your mother stop visiting after the second sentence?
TH: My younger brother Joseph was with me in remand home for almost the entire time I was in prison, so I got to see him every day, all day. He was released two months before me. My father was in the adult prison, so I didn’t see him for almost two years. I only saw him when we went to court for the trial in the case against me, Joseph, and my father. That first case was dismissed before trial started because there was no evidence against us.
My mother visited me and Joseph at the remand home every month or two, but she had to sell our cows to be able to do so. After I was convicted of murder, I told her not to come visit me anymore. But she didn’t stop coming. She would tell me to stay strong and that nothing lasts forever except the word of God. She also told me that God can take the bad things in our lives and make good from them. I am living proof that what she said is true. If I had not been arrested and charged with crimes I did not commit, I would not be in medical school and my brother Joseph would not be in his second year of law school.
How were you treated by the public when you were initially released on probation? Did you face discrimination?
TH: Everyone at home, and the rest of the villagers were so happy when I came back home. I found when I arrived that they had prepared for me a special party; they carried me inside the house! Everybody was thankful to God for having let me back home after a long period of time of innocent imprisonment.
How has life been different after being exonerated? Have you seen more opportunities since then?
TH: My life has been so enjoyable since exoneration, because my future was dependent on being free in Uganda without court records about me. Now I can do medicine and surgery without hindrance. More so, I'm so free that I can move everywhere I want since I was exonerated. I have achieved lots of opportunities because after exoneration, I was allowed to travel outside Uganda to visit Jim and his family when our book, "Divine Collision," was published. I also have the opportunity of studying to become a doctor.
Your family went through a lot of pain. How are they doing?
TH: My family is okay. After my father was released, he and my mom had another baby. We named him after Mr. Jim. His names is James Josiah, and we call him Josiah. His is now four. When Josiah was one, my father died from liver cancer. My mother is doing okay, but she misses my father. My younger brother Joseph who was with me in the remand home is now studying to be a lawyer. Mr. Jim and his family are paying for us to go to school.
My experience has actually made me popular in the community because they are now seeing that I am becoming a doctor as a result of this experience!
How has your experience influenced your relationship with your community?
TH: I was so much pronounced in the community when the scenario occurred, I became known. When I was released, lots of people came to see me to find out more about my family and about me. This created rapport among my family and the community. At first, my family’s clan was afraid to let the community know that they were related to us. But the community in which we lived knew what had really happened, so we never lost a relationship with them. My experience has actually made me popular in the community because they are now seeing that I am becoming a doctor as a result of this experience!
Tell us about your friendship with Jim.
TH: Mr. Jim is very friendly, not only to me but generally. Since I met him, I confirmed that he is a friend to everyone and does not believe in seeing people suffer. Mr. Jim and I have a strong bond of friendship, and we are ever in touch, irrespective of what circumstances happening. We talk always, and before we hang up our phones, we say "I love you” to each other, and we mean it.
It's like we made an oath of being friends throughout our lifetime, because our friendship grows stronger day by day. I TRULY LOVE MR. JIM AND HIS FAMILY. It’s so amazing to have such friendship beyond doubt. I can talk about my friendship with Jim entirely without stopping.
Why did you choose to study medicine? How lose are you to being a cardiologist?
I decided then that though I am only one, I could be a doctor and make a difference for many.
TH: When I was in the juvenile prison, I was the Katikkiro, which meant that I was in charge of the other prisoners. When one of them would get sick, I went with the juvenile to the doctor to help get treatment. Many times, we would wait outside the office in the long queue for the doctor to come. The doctor would arrive late, and see only a few patients, then leave for two hours for breakfast. He would then see another few patients, and then leave for lunch. In the afternoon, he would see a few patients and then go home early. Many of the patients were brought to the front ahead of the others because they knew the doctor. I would go for an entire day and the juvenile would not be seen.
I want to help people and help improve Uganda’s medical system.
I want to be a cardiologist because my mother has high blood pressure and I have been wanting to learn about how to treat hearts so I can help her.