Hold on Tight

Tricked out motorcycles and flowing beards littered the music video of one of my favorite songs when I was just waking up to rock and roll.  Unfortunately, adherence to ZZ Top’s lingering directive to “Hold on Loosely” transformed my iPhone into a “bye-Phone” last Thursday night on the way home from a pizza dinner with our student interns here in Uganda.

Allow me to explain (and stay with me here).

I can’t fully articulate the philosophical underpinnings of the solution to Bart Simpson’s timeless Zen-infused riddle of, “How is it possible for something to suck and blow at the same time?”  I can, however, provide an irrefutable example — Kampala traffic.

As my colleague Jenna and I were steeping in the suck/blow phenomenon in a circa-1980 Toyota Corolla, I lowered my window to half-mast to compensate for the taxi’s comatose air conditioner.  We were dead still, and had been for about ten minutes, so I pulled out my iPhone 6 Plus and started thumbing away at my e-mail backlog.  Because the phone is so big, and because I generally type with the phone in the vertical position, I hold it near the bottom as I type.  And because I am a huge ZZ Top fan, I hold on loosely to the phone while typing.

As I did so, I acquired a new friend who spontaneously materialized from the darkness and reached through the window to generously relieve me of the burden of responding to my pile of e-mails.  He then darted through and around the coil of traffic and vanished almost as quickly as he had appeared.  I was so momentarily befuddled by my unhanding, I fumbled with the door lock and latch long enough to permit myself only a fleeting glance at the back of his head.

This most unpleasant turn of events presented me with the singular pleasure of discovering how to locate and erase my “lost” iPhone.  Hint: substantial delays inject themselves into the process when one forgets the answer to the two supposedly simple security questions necessary to log into iTunes from another continent.  Apparently, I don’t remember EITHER my best friend in high school OR my first car, though apparently these answers were supplied by me when I was in more lucid state.  This bout with early-onset Alzheimer’s earned me the opportunity to enjoy Apple’s “hold music” for the better part of an hour.  Surprisingly, the Easy Listening selection failed to temper my rising frustration.  Ultimately, the Genius who brought an unceremonious halt to my impromptu sing-along session with Simon and Garfunkel was able to assist me with (i) locating a signal from my erstwhile prodigal phone, and (ii) triggering the “erase” feature on said phone.  I briefly contemplated hiring another taxi so I could locate and assist my new friend as he answered my e-mails (at least that’s what I assume he was doing), but as I zoomed in with the GPS locator, I realized that it could only mark out a 100-yard radius in a neighborhood with, shall we say, lots of room for improvement in the safety category.  And no, I didn’t call the police.  If you have ever been to Uganda, you know precisely how effective that would have been . . .

The next evening, after the closing ceremony of a spectacular week-long mediation training program delivered by Mitch and Selina, I had the opportunity to demonstrate just how mentally gifted I really am.  The forum for my display of intellectual prowess was on the way to the airport to pick up my wife and about ten others flying in from all over the United States and from Rwanda.  Because so many Uganda rookies were coming in at the same time, I decided to accompany the driver in the court’s thirty-passenger mini-bus to go and fetch them.  I also invited along one of our students interning in Uganda who is a bit sweet on one of our other student interns currently based in neighboring Rwanda working for the Chief Justice of that country.  Let’s pretend her name is “Shelby.”

Shelby and I decided not to tell her boyfriend “Ricky” that she was coming to the airport with me so it would be a surprise.  In fact, we affirmatively lied to him.  (Lying is OK if it is done in the name of love, right?).  Luckily for Shelby and me, we got to experience the suck/blow traffic again.  This time, however, I didn’t roll the window down, but opted instead to slide the windows open as buses are designed to do.  As Shelby and I were talking and looking at her computer, a shady looking dude approached the motionless bus from my side and peered into the window from his tippy toes.  As I slid the window shut, the dude’s buddy lurch-reached into the bus on Shelby’s side and swiped her purse.  Like his compadre from the night before, he disappeared into the darkness as I yelled out the window, “Stop the thief, he stole a purse!”  The onlookers stared at me quizzically, likely confused by the claim that my purse was stolen.

Guess what was in Shelby’s purse, besides credit cards, a debit card, cash, and her driver’s license?  Yep, her iPhone.  She quickly activated the tracking software and erased her phone.  The moral of this story?  Jim is a pee-brained idiot.  (And yes, I know I spelled pea-brained wrong, but I was being ironic).

I added an exclamation point to this truism just moments later when Ricky e-mailed me as he boarded his one-hour flight from Rwanda to Uganda to let me know all was well.  My inner Einstein typed back (on my internet-connected computer BECAUSE MY iPHONE HAD BEEN STOLEN) that Shelby and I would see him soon.

“Wait, you just told him I was coming with you to the airport?” she sadly asked.

See?  I am an idiot.

I am also unspeakably cruel.

In an effort to make up for my spoiling the surprise, I had Shelby hide while I greeted Ricky and the other intern from Rwanda after they landed.  Ricky gave me a hug, even as his eyes skipped and darted around and among the other airport greeters.

“Did you get my e-mail about Shelby coming?” I asked.

“Yes, just now,” he said with a blossoming smile.  “Where is she?”

“Sorry, Ricky, I was just kidding,” I said with an even bigger smile.  “She’s back at the hotel waiting for you.  That was mean, wasn’t it?”

“Are you serious?  She’s not really here?” He looked like a kid whose puppy had just been snatched up by an owl.

“Actually, she is here, but she is hiding,” I said, as I pointed to where she had been earlier.  Only she wasn’t there, she had moved a bit and was still not visible.

“Where?” he asked frantically.

When I didn’t see her, I plumbed the depths of depravity even deeper by saying, “Just kidding, she’s not really here.  Got you!”

I thought he was going to hit me, but Shelby thankfully jumped out and hugged him, thus saving me what would have been a well-earned bloody nose.

A few minutes later, Joline arrived with lawyers Aaron Echols (Dallas-based Pepperdine Law grad whose wedding I was honored to perform), Austin Watkins (Nashville-based Pepperdine Law grad who lived in my house when I lived in Uganda in 2012), Mike DiReda (Utah judge with whom I graduated from Pepperdine in 1993), Brad Siegel (Los Angeles Public Defender who has helped host several delegations of Ugandan and Guatemalan judicial officials on SoCal study tours), Darren Gardner (DC-based Kirkland & Ellis associate I met during the Divine Collision and REMAND tour earlier this year when we showed REMAND at Kirkland’s DC office), Brian Serr (Baylor Criminal Law Professor I also met on the Divine Collision tour), Jon Wood (Ohio-based corporate lawyer who roomed with one of my Pepperdine colleagues while in law school), and Avery Wood (Jon’s daughter who just finished her freshman year at U of Alabama).

Shockingly, nothing was stolen on our ride back to town.

Saturday was a day of shopping and sightseeing by the group.  Joline and I ducked out twice – first to catch up with good friends from Baylor with whom we are exploring and implementing joint global justice projects (more on that in later posts), and second to spend some time with my God son and his family – the Kiryabwires, with whom Joline and I have become quite close over the past six years.

The K Kids

The K Kids

On Sunday morning, thirty-three of us (including four drivers and two armed body guards) piled into a mini-bus, a van, a truck, and an SUV.  The destination was Fort Portal where our one-week prison project would launch the following morning.  For lunch, we stopped at what should be considered one of the eight wonders of the world – a sprawling resort constructed from logs on a ridge overlooking a breathtaking crater lake and valley.  Lunch was great, but the views from Kyaninga Lodge are other-worldly.

Jim and Joline at Kyaninga Lodge

Jim and Joline at Kyaninga Lodge

Prison Project Team

Prison Project Team

That evening, we were joined by 13 Uganda Christian University law students and then broke our group into seven teams to review thirty-one sets of photocopied police and court files we had just received.

The next post will begin with our entry into the Katojo high security adult prison, which was built for 318, but currently houses 1247.  Just over 1,000 of them have no lawyer, no court date, and dwindling hope as the months and years have dripped away.

The African prison rookies sported wide eyes and a tight hold on their computers.  As they soon learned, however, the roller coaster they were boarding required them to hold on more tightly to their emotions and to their conception of reality.

More soon.

Enigmatic Riddle Solved (I Think)

After spending Sunday ensuring that all of the logistical arrangements were in place for the kickoff of the week-long mediation training, we were ready for the opening on Monday morning.  This training program is the product of a Memorandum of Understanding (an agreement similar to a contract) between Pepperdine’s Law School and Uganda’s Justice, Law, and Order Sector – the umbrella organization consisting of eighteen legal institutions, including the Judiciary (and prisons, prosecution, police, department of justice, etc.).  The law school’s Global Justice Program manages the MOU, and I am privileged to direct the GJP and to serve as the MOU’s project manager on the Pepperdine side.

The GJP, in turn, engages other partners to provide training for our Ugandan friends.  One such important partner is Pepperdine Law’s top-ranked Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution.  One of the many areas in which Straus has expertise is mediation training; the main mediation training program is called Mediating the Litigated Case.  This industry-leading week-long course is taught all over the world, including in Uganda in early 2014.

While Ugandans — indeed most Africans — have been privately mediating disputes for centuries, the implementation of public justice systems by Western colonial powers in the 1900s injected the adversarial system into their culture.  This, combined with insufficient judicial resources, resulted in crippling delays in the adjudication process, which caused huge case docket backlogs.  Over the past decade or so, there has been an effort to infuse mediation back into the public consciousness in order to reduce the delays, and there is now a huge push to institutionalize alternative dispute resolution (mediation in the civil realm, and plea bargaining in the criminal realm) in the public justice system.  Pepperdine has had the privilege of assisting and encouraging Uganda in this regard on both the civil and criminal side.  Hence, the focus of this three-week trip – one week of mediation training, one week of plea bargaining work, and one week consisting of a plea bargaining conference and an appellate mediation conference.

Those who have spent any amount of time in Uganda know that formality and protocol are very important here.  Accordingly, speeches proliferated in the opening of the mediation training program.  As the project manager on the MOU, I was called upon – along with the Principal Judge, the head of the Judicial Studies Institute, and the High Court Judge leading the mediation rollout – to say a few words of welcome, background, and explanation of how the training program came to be.

Opening Ceremony

Opening Ceremony

I also had the privilege of introducing the two expert trainers – Selina Shultz (lead) and Mitch Goldberg.  (I don’t know my butt from a hot rock on mediation training, but fortunately I know those who do).

Selina Shultz

Selina Shultz

Judge Mitch Goldberg

Judge Mitch Goldberg

Tuesday morning, I woke up to a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma – all of which resided on my bathroom floor.

Let me explain.

When I am in Uganda, I take an ambien sleeping pill each night to ensure that (i) I adjust to the time difference, and (ii) I get a full night of sleep each night so I can pedal hard throughout the next day.  That pill often alters/erases one’s memory during the time it is in effect.  Well, on Monday night, I took an ambien, climbed into bed, and watched CNN as the Orlando tragedy continued to unfold.

The next morning, I woke up to something that initially stumped my inner Columbo.  Now, it is not all uncommon to find cockroaches in Ugandan hotels.  It is quite unusual, however, to find dead cockroaches in the middle of the floor.  Thus, my utter perplexity when my flick of the bathroom light switch revealed this:

Morning Surprise

Morning Surprise

Not only was the cockroach dead, but it was squashed.  I stared quizzically at it for a full minute before I had an epiphany.  Circumstantial evidence pointed to only one conclusion – I must have smashed the poor b@$+ard in the dark during the night when my Coke Zero from dinner coaxed my bladder into demanding the rest of my body engage in a groggy pilgrimage to porcelain alter.  What are the odds?

Anyway . . .

It has been so fun catching up with our eleven student interns here for the summer, including at a milkshake-laden dinner at a South African steak joint in the Golf Course Hotel on Tuesday night.

Dinner with the Summer Interns

Dinner with the Summer Interns

Wednesday and Thursday have run quite smoothly and have been filled with planning meetings for the upcoming prison project.

Between meetings, I have had the privilege of watching the expert mediation trainers at work – they are truly outstanding and the nearly fifty judicial officers are drinking deeply from the wellspring of knowledge overflowing before them.

The prison project lawyers arrive late Friday evening.  Accompanying them will be my bride of exactly 26 years.  Happy Anniversary, Joline!  This will be the first time since we were married that we weren’t together on our special day, but I am grateful she is flying in tomorrow.


I can’t help but recognize the metaphor in the rising sun peeking over the seven hills of Kampala this Sunday morning.  I have no memory of ever taking the time on any of my prior visits to Uganda to sit still and appreciate the beauty and simplicity and constancy of the equatorial sunrise – 6:45 a.m. every single day.  I need to do better.  I need to daily draw a connection between the faithfulness of this sun rise and the infinitely more sustaining son rise that gives all of this meaning.

I find myself feeling less anxious about the soon-to-unfold events of this trip than perhaps any other of the prior eighteen.  I’m not exactly sure why, but I suspect it is because this one is starting out less frenetic than the others.  And that’s not an accident.  I am often a slow learner, but I eventually tend to figure things out.  My modus operandi has heretofore been flying in the night before the launch of a series of fast-paced programs.  This has too often led difficult sleep adjustments (ten-hour time difference), not to mention awkward wardrobe malfunctions due to the dilly-dallying of my suitcases on one or more of the layovers.

As the details of this three-week trip began to crystalize, my hyper-organized Global Justice Program colleague, Jenna DeWalt, gently suggested that we build into the schedule some leeway to allow those traveling with us (most for the first time) to get their feet under them before we ask them to run.  Good advice well taken.

So we set off on Thursday afternoon – Jenna, Judge Mitchel Goldberg, and I from Los Angeles, and Selina Shultz from Pittsburgh.  We hooked up with Selina in Amsterdam, ultimately landing in Entebbe a little before midnight, and settled in at our Kampala Hotel at around 1:00 a.m.  Fortunately, there was nothing eventful about the flights, other than the fact that all of our suitcases made the journey with us – I am now 13 wins and 6 losses in this department, but who’s keeping score.  (I guess I am).

This three-week trip is conveniently divided into three substantially equal parts.  The first week is mediation training, the second is the prison project, and the third is conferences.  Those who know me even moderately well know than I am incapable of training anyone in mediation.  I know my limitations, but I also have friends, who themselves have friends.  Which leads me back to the all-star mediation trainers, Mitch and Selina.  Which, in turn leads me back to John Napier.

In 2009, Pepperdine launched its Nootbaar Fellows program, pursuant to which a Pepperdine Law alum serves the Uganda Judiciary for entire year.  John was our first, and became the first-ever court-annexed mediator in the country.  Since then, the fellowship program has helped launch a movement to expand mediation to the entire country in an effort to reduce court congestion and case backlog.  Since Pepperdine’s Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution is the world-leader in dispute resolution training, it only made sense to invite Straus to partner with our Global Justice Program.  This partnership led to the first-ever national mediation training workshop in 2014, and its follow-on workshop that begins tomorrow.

Mitch was one of the trainers in 2014 and has been itching to return for round two.  Having received an advanced legal degree in dispute resolution from Pepperdine, Selina has become one of the mediation trainers for Straus and jumped at the opportunity to join this trip.  So Monday morning will kick off a week-long training workshop for fifty Ugandan judges who will soon become the core of Uganda’s mediation corps.

But all work and no play makes Jimmy a dull boy, so we spent Saturday in one of my favorite places in Uganda – Jinja.  Before heading out of Kampala for the two-hour drive, we stopped to say hello to our Pepperdine summer interns who are serving eight-week internships with Ugandan judges.  One of them, Emily, jumped in the car with us (along with Nicole, our current Nootbaar Fellow, who is serving as a year-long mediator in the Family Court); four of them had gone ahead to Jinja for a day of white water rafting and bungee jumping.

Our first stop was the Source Café, which was started by a team of missionaries nearly twenty years ago.

First Stop in Jinja

First Stop in Jinja

From there, we dropped Mitch, Selina, Emily, and Nicole off in a fishing village on the banks of the Nile River for a two-hour tour of the Nile and Lake Victoria, which is the source of the Nile.  While they were touring, Jenna and I went to visit an American friend and her husband of about two years.  It was a joy to catch up with her, a few of her many adopted Ugandan girls, and to meet their adorable new son.

Before returning to Kampala, our group met up with four of our student interns and watched them climb a rickety platform, strap their feet to a rubber band, and then hurl themselves a couple hundred feet toward the Nile.  There is nothing like bungee jumping in the developing world if one wants to tempt fate.

What could possibly go wrong?

What could possibly go wrong?

Having done this twice in 2012 (once each with my two youngest kids), I passed on the opportunity to become a recidivist.

Strapped to Joshua on my first plunge in 2012

Strapped to Joshua on my first plunge in 2012

Today is final preparation day for the mediation training.  While Selina and Mitch are training their hearts out the rest of the week, Jenna and I will be preparing for the arrival of a team of American lawyers on Friday who will work alongside our student interns, Ugandan lawyers, and Ugandan law students on our annual prison project.  This year, we will work in three prisons (Fort Portal, Mbarara, and Bushenyi), the first of which was the site of our first-ever pilot plea bargaining program in adult prisons in 2013.

Day One of 2013 Prison Project in Fort Portal's Katojo Prison

Day One of 2013 Prison Project in Fort Portal’s Katojo Prison

Stay tuned for regular updates over the next three weeks.

For those wondering about the title of this post, it derives from 1980s novelty song that raced to #1 on music charts around the world.  I will let you decide whether this was or was not a clever way of indicating that this my nineteenth trip to Uganda.

Summer Trip to Uganda, Anyone?

It feels like I just returned from Uganda, but I am now deep in the planning stages of the next trip — #19.  It will start out with a week of mediation training led by Pepperdine’s world-renowned Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution, and then transition into our annual five-day prison project, after which two training conferences will be held on plea bargaining and appellate mediation.  Three weeks in all.

And yes, we still have several open spots for lawyers looking to give voice to the voiceless and have a life-changing adventure deep in the heart of Africa.  If you can extricate yourself from your law practice for about ten days beginning on June 16th and are able to self-fund your trip, shoot me an e-mail in the next week or so at jim.gash@pepperdine.edu.  Prior experience in the criminal realm is preferred, but not required.

Last month’s trip was a whirlwind, during which I had the chance to:

Meet up with one of my former students who was in Uganda working on her dissertation;

Re-connect with a good friend from Wales who is dedicating his adult life to trying to keep Ugandan families intact;

Secure housing for our 12 students spending the summer in Uganda and finalize their court assignments;

Witness the integration of new video system on which we have been advising our Ugandan friends, which will allow kids to testify remotely against their assailants;

Renew deep friendships with dear friends in the judiciary, including the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Secretary of the Judiciary, the Chief Registrar, and numerous High Court Judges;

Celebrate the birthday of my God son and dine with his family – the Kiryabwires;

Mark turns two

Mark turns two

Re-visit one of the worst places on earth – the National Rehabilitation Center – where juveniles are sent after being convicted of crimes, and plot with several Ugandans and Americans (Sixty Feet) about how to make much-needed changes;

Collaborate with new and old friends in the Kampala office of the International Justice Mission and plan numerous projects together in the near future;

With Shawn Kohl at IJM's Kampala Field Office

With Shawn Kohl at IJM’s Kampala Field Office

Return to the maximum security prison (Luzira) where REMAND was filmed to envision a program whereby faith-based identity transformation is introduced to assist with rehabilitation;

Journey six hours each way to have lunch with the Chief Justice at his village home on a hill overlooking the majestic Queen Elizabeth National Park;

At CJ's home near Queen Elizabeth Park

At CJ’s home near Queen Elizabeth Park

Providentially, the trip to see the Chief Justice took us right by Henry’s medical school, so we had a chance to stop and see him between classes.

Andrew and I with Henry at KIU

Andrew and I with Henry at KIU

Henry continues to excel and is closing in on the end of his second year of study.  For those who read prior posts, his lost immunology exam was eventually found and, when graded, showed that Henry passed the test with flying colors.  This left Henry among a small group of students who passed every exam on the first try.

Henry’s family remains embroiled in a testy dispute over the land on which he grew up, though things seem to be moving in favor of his mother as she tries to prevent Henry’s aunt from trying to illegally seize the property in the wake of Henry’s father’s death.

On the very exciting front, Henry’s younger brother Joseph was just admitted to law school!  After being released from twenty months on remand in a juvenile detention facility with Henry, Joseph decided he wanted to be a lawyer in order to help prevent what happened to him from happening to other kids.  Joseph will enroll in Kampala International University in August.

While I was on the book and film tour with Henry, several people approached me asking how they could be helpful to Henry’s family.  One important way is to contribute to Joseph’s legal education.  (Henry’s medical school tuition is being covered by my parents and Colin and Amy Bachelor).  I am more than happy to answer whatever questions anyone has about Joseph’s tuition and living expenses, or the cost of Henry’s living expenses while in school.

On the REMAND front, we had the final preview screening at the historic Egyptian Theater in Hollywood a few weeks ago.  We were thrilled with the attendance and the film was well received.  In fact, we were offered an automatic entry into a film festival by one of the attendees.  A new website is currently under construction and a wide-scale effort to enter numerous film festivals will begin later this month.

Divine Collision continues to be well reviewed and continues to open doors for me to share this story of transformation on two continents.  I had a chance to speak to about a thousand Pepperdine students at their final convocation (chapel) gathering a couple weeks ago, and will be speaking at a break-out session at Pepperdine’s annual Bible Lectures this coming Thursday (3:30-4:15 in the Raitt Recital Hall).  Guideposts magazine ran several stories about Henry and our family in the May print edition and on the web.

18 And Life To Go

One of my favorite songs when I was in college was “18 and Life to Go” by Skid Row.  That pop-metal song crashed back into my life as I traveled to Uganda this weekend for the 18th time.  My commitment to my beloved second country ensures that while this is trip 18, I do have “life to go” in my travels here.  But before discussing this upcoming week’s activities, here is a quick recap.

The Divine Collision book tour Henry and I started in late January ended in early March after a whirlwind spin through Texas involving three chapel talks at Baylor, a national radio interview, and three screenings of REMAND in Waco, Dallas, and Houston.  It was so good to catch up with dear friends along the way.

Breakfast in Dallas with Echols and Delaneys

Breakfast in Dallas with Echols and Delaneys

Prior to Henry’s departure, the BBC broadcast the radio interview Henry and I did with them and published an extensive feature on our story.  The Washington Post also published a nice article.  Following the BBC story, I received calls and e-mails from Nigeria, Ghana, the UK, and Uganda, some of which have raised intriguing new possible projects.

On March 3rd, Henry traveled back home to resume his medical school studies.  We loaded him up (down?) with lots of first-world “essentials” (developing world “luxuries”) for his family – frying pan, Tupperware, chocolates, etc.

We stopped at the beach in Malibu on the way to the airport for one last photo and said our emotional goodbyes as Henry boarded the plane for his 21st flight during the trip.  Memories to last a lifetime.

Farewell to Malibu

Farewell to Malibu


Heading Home to Uganda

I also sent Henry home with the near-final cut of REMAND – the documentary about how his case led to substantial reform in Uganda’s criminal justice system.  (Incidentally, the final cut will be shown on April 12th at the Historic Egyptian Theater for the first and only time prior to going on the film festival circuit – tickets available here.  Please pass along this invite to others).  Henry showed the documentary in his local village to a crowd assembled the night before he returned to medical school.

Prior to returning to Uganda, Henry had learned that he was among a list of approximately 200 of the then-remaining 360 students in his medical school class (which had started with 500 eighteen months ago) who had to re-take one or more of his examinations from the prior semester in order to advance to the second semester of his second year.  Henry was quite surprised that he had to retake Immunology, which he had believed was one of strongest subjects.

Upon returning to school, though, he discovered that he had not performed poorly on the exam, but instead that his was one of eighty students’ exams that had been lost by the professor.  All eighty had to take it again.  Soon thereafter, Henry was notified that he passed the retake and advanced to his fourth semester.

When all the dust settled on the third semester, only 280 of the original 500 students remained.  The “sifting” process will continue for a few more semesters, with the expectation being that around 200 will graduate at the end of six years.  Henry is quite confident he will be among them.

During this 18th trip, I will be nailing down the details of the upcoming summer prison project (June 17-27), finalizing a couple national conferences we will be hosting in late June/early July, arranging everything for this summer’s student intern class, and exploring new projects and expanding existing ones.

Before I left Malibu, I had my second call with a government official in Nigeria about potentially working with them on judicial reforms, and hosted a delegation of Guatemalan lawyers who are exploring possible criminal justice reform along the lines of those undertaken by Uganda.

Divine Collision continues to be received and reviewed well – thanks to those of you who have shared your thoughts on Amazon.  If you have had a chance to read the book, please let your voice be heard.  My publisher tells me that getting to 100 reviews on Amazon is an important benchmark.  As of today, we are nearly halfway there:)

Through New Eyes

During the four weeks Henry has been in the United States, I have learned to see daily life through new eyes.  It is so easy to take for granted many aspects of life in the developed world.  Henry was amazed by how good the roads were once he landed on January 26th – “they are all tarmac and almost no potholes.”  Equally confounding to him was the fact that drivers operated their cars in an “orderly fashion,” obeying traffic signals and staying in their lanes.  Having driven in Uganda during the six months I lived there in 2012, I knew what he meant about how different driving in both locations could be.

“Magic” is what he declared my garage door opener, and “Is the power always on?” is the question that soon followed.  Henry’s family first acquired electricity (one socket) in 2014, and continual flow of electricity is unusual.  One of the surprises he had was that there weren’t flying cars crowding the sky, as is supposed by many Ugandans living in the rural areas.

After Henry was released from prison in May of 2010, he enrolled in Bob Goff’s Restore Leadership Academy in Gulu, Uganda.  During his two years there, he got to know Bob fairly well due to Bob’s periodic visits.  Accordingly, our first outing on Henry’s second day was a trip to San Diego to see Bob.  As you can see from the photo, there is never a dull moment with Bob.

Of course Bob Goff has a ball pit in his office

Of course Bob Goff has a ball pit in his office

Also in San Diego, Henry got to experience the ocean for the first time, though it took some convincing that he wouldn’t be swept out to sea when the waves retreated.


Soon thereafter, we visited the happiest place on earth, which is still Henry’s favorite place he has visited thus far.

Hey Disney, we have a story for you

Hey Disney, we have a story for you

Over the course of his first full week in Southern California, we did a live radio show, a screening of the REMAND documentary that features his story, and he attended school with Jessica at Pepperdine and with Joshua at Oaks Christian High School.  At each school, he was asked to address the classes about his medical school studies in Uganda and how stark the difference was in educational resources.  His favorite part of the school visits were the chances to use the microscopes, which are shared by ten students in Uganda.

Henry and I also had a chance to accompany Jessica to the juvenile prison where she volunteers as a tutor.  We told them our story about meeting each other when Henry was in prison in Uganda.  They initially refused to believe the conditions of Henry’s confinement as he shared with them the fact that he had no electricity, no running water, no flush toilets, and no bed.  Henry told them that if there were beds, electricity, running water, flush toilets, books, computers, teachers, and adults who cared about them, Ugandan kids would be committing crimes in order to be admitted to such prisons.

At Camp David Gonzales Juvenile Detention Center

At Camp David Gonzales Juvenile Detention Center

Our first adventure outside California was to Memphis, Tennessee, where we had the opportunity to speak to students at Harding Academy – arranged by JP and Jennifer Webber, who are good friends from our Abilene Christian days.

Harding Academy Chapel in Memphis

Harding Academy Chapel in Memphis

We also got a lengthy tour of the surgery center at the Toyos Eye Clinic, which is owned and operated by Rolando Toyos, a high school friend from my Santa Rosa days.  Unsurprisingly, Henry had never seen the kind of high-end equipment used for corrective eye surgery in the United States – Uganda has yet to take this technological leap.  Henry was quite intrigued by this area of medicine, but still remains committed to cardiology for now.

Toyos Eye Clinic in Memphis

Toyos Eye Clinic in Memphis

On the way from Memphis to Nashville, we pulled over in the snow for Henry’s first experience with frozen water falling from the sky.  Shortly after Henry had landed in LA, I asked him when he had been the coldest in his life.  “I have never been cold” was his answer because Uganda rests on the equator and never gets below about 70 degrees.  To prepare him for our travels, I walked him into the refrigerated area at Costco and told him where we were going was colder than this.  “Ahhh.  I will freeze to death,” he exclaimed.  Soon thereafter, we bought him the gloves and down jacket he wore during his first encounter with snow.

The next morning, while staying with our dear friends the Williamsons in Nashville, Henry had his first sled ride down a snow-covered hill.  Ten minutes later, he solemnly declared, “We must go inside now, as my hands are no longer functional.”  Henry was thrilled to meet the publishing team at Worthy for Divine Collision.

With Senior Members of Worthy Publishing Team

With Senior Members of Worthy Publishing Team

We also had the privilege in Nashville of sharing our story with elementary, middle school, and high school students at Lipscomb Academy, and with university students at Lipscomb University and Belmont University.

Lipscomb Academy (elementary)

Lipscomb Academy (elementary)

Lipscomb Academy Jr. High/High School

Lipscomb Academy Jr. High/High School

We also screened REMAND and met with multiple print media folks who are writing articles and book reviews about Divine Collision.

After a one-night return trip to Los Angeles in order to attend Pepperdine’s annual law school dinner, we got back on the road, this time with my wife Joline joining us.  Our first stop was in Norfolk, Virginia, where we were privileged to film two television shows for the Christian Broadcasting network, both of which were aired that day.  The links are here:



We then drove up to Washington, DC for a few days where we taped a BBC radio show that will air shortly around the world, screened REMAND at two different locations, and met with other members of the press.  We enjoyed the chance to catch up numerous dear friends who live in DC.  We also had a great behind-the-scenes tour of the US Supreme Court, and got to show Henry numerous important monuments.

Post-Screening Q & A in DC

Post-Screening Q & A in DC

We knocked, but no one was home

We knocked, but no one was home

At Supreme Court, with flags at half mast

At Supreme Court, with flags at half mast

Along the way, I recorded another radio interview with Faith Radio Network, linked here.

We concluded our East Coast tour with a one-hour live interview in the Empire State Building on the Eric Metaxas Show (Salem Radio in 200 markets) (podcast here), and a video interview with Guideposts Magazine, which will be publishing an article in May about our story.

With Eric Metaxas

With Eric Metaxas

At Guideposts HQ

At Guideposts HQ

A highlight of this visit was showing Henry the Statue of Liberty, which took on added significance as we stood together gazing upon this symbol of something Henry lacked for nearly two years.

This Monument took on new meaning as Henry and I gazed at it

The Statue of Liberty took on new meaning as we gazed at it

As I write this, we are on our way to Texas, where we will be appearing on a live radio show to 340 markets, speaking at three Baylor chapel sessions to a combined audience of more than 3,000 and showing REMAND in Waco, Dallas, and Houston.

So far, we are pleased and honored by the warm reception Divine Collision has received by both media and general audiences.  If you have read the book, we would be grateful for reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and elsewhere.


Touch Down

Pardon my Super Bowl metaphor, but I couldn’t resist.  Today feels like a touchdown, goal, grand slam, ace, slam dunk, and hole in one all wrapped up in a Chipotle burrito.  Henry lands in a couple hours for a five-week, six-state tour of the U.S. – the very day Divine Collision is officially released.

Divine Collision Book

As chronicled in Divine Collision, this day has been a long time in coming.  It was almost derailed more times than I have fingers and toes, including two weeks ago when his final exams were rescheduled to conflict with his trip.  Fortunately, Henry can be quite persuasive, and was able to convince the medical school dean to reinstate the original exam schedule so he could get on the plane.

On Monday morning, I spoke with him while he was on the way to the airport, and he was positively giddy.  He texted me from the runway just before departing from Entebbe (Uganda) for Amsterdam.  On Monday evening, he texted me from the security line at Amsterdam while he waited to board the final flight to Los Angeles.

We have numerous surprises in store for him, including a trip to the happiest place on earth.  He will be singing for his supper, though, as we will be appearing at numerous colleges, universities, high schools, churches, theaters, and bookstores along the way.

If you want to meet him (and get your book signed by him also), please feel encouraged to come to one or more of the events, including a potluck at my house this coming Sunday at noon.  Seriously, you should come.  (E-mail me for directions – jim.gash@pepperdine.edu).

I had a great trip to Waco, Abilene, and Lubbock earlier this month, and very much enjoyed the chance to speak with so many folks at these places.  I will always remember my first-ever book signing at Lubbock Christian.  More that event from the campus newspaper here.

Lubbock Christian Book Signing

And I certainly won’t ever forget the bat (yes, a bat) that circled ACU’s Moody Coliseum and dive-bombed me and the crowd of a couple thousand for the last eight minutes of my chapel talk.

We had a chance to screen REMAND at both LCU and ACU, and the press attended the ACU gathering.  More on that here and here.

I recently wrote an article for Relevant Magazine about how Bob Goff exploded my life – more on that here.

Also, I have had the privilege of talking to several folks in recorded podcasts/broadcasts.  The first was the Eric Metaxas Show, the second was with Dan Darling of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the third was with Mike Schutt of the Christian Legal Society.

A few days later, I was invited to kick off Justice Week at Oaks Christian High School with a talk to the entire school, which is now on youtube here.

I will endeavor to chronicle on this blog, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter Henry’s adventures around the country over the next five weeks.  Thanks for following along.

One final note – if you are planning to buy the book, I would be grateful if you did so in the next week or so, as initial sales figures are rather important.  Also, if you would be so kind as to provide a review of the book (once you have finished it) on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and/or Goodreads, I would be much obliged, as my publisher tells me that the sooner we reach a critical mass on these, the better.


Securing a visa allowing a non-citizen to visit the United States has historically been a challenge, particularly for those from the developing world.  This process has only become more difficult in the wake of the Paris and San Bernardino terrorist attacks.

The two most important decision-making factors utilized by the State Department are (i) whether the visa applicant presents a threat of danger to the United States, and (ii) whether the applicant presents a risk of overstaying the visa when the visa’s usually narrow time window closes.

We have been longing to bring Henry to the United States and would have flown him out here years ago if we didn’t think his, um, (wrongful) murder conviction, would have raised some teensy little questions about factor (i) above.  So we waited.  And waited.

After my agent and I selected Worthy as the publisher for Divine Collision in March of 2015, we targeted a publication date that we hoped would coincide with the typical three-week break between Henry’s medical school semesters at Kampala International University.  Those who have spent time in the developing world know, however, that forecasting dates into the future can be dicey.  This is no less true in the educational realm in Uganda.  Our best estimate was that Henry would finish the fall semester on or about February 6th, and then resume the spring semester on or about February 29th.

There was also the issue of the, um, conviction that still lingered.  Fortunately, our prayers were answered in June of 2015 when Henry was exonerated and his conviction was vacated.  That took care of factor (i).

Our next prayer was that we could persuade the State Department to issue Henry a visa for his three-week semester break.  (A little over three years ago, we got Henry a passport and sent him on a field trip to South Africa with his school so he could have at least a small track record of leaving Uganda and returning – that was his first (and only) plane flight).

After some discussion in the late spring of 2015, Worthy set the official release date for January 26, 2016, so we could ensure the book was out by the time he arrived in the event Henry was granted a visa.  About a month ago, Henry’s fall semester exam schedule was finally posted.  To our surprise, his last exam was scheduled for Saturday, January 23rd.  We also learned that the spring term would begin on Monday, March 7th.  Needless to say, this greatly expanded our potential window for his maiden voyage to the United States.

With the help of Pepperdine Law’s Uganda-based Nootbaar Fellow, Nicole Banister, Henry secured a visa interview for December 29th, just over a week ago.  At 1:00 a.m., Henry set out for Kampala on a crowded bus on bumpy road and made his way to Kampala at 5:00 a.m.  The lawyer who assisted me with Henry’s appeal, Edward Sekabanja, picked Henry up from the bus park and gave him a pep talk and some last-minute advice.

At 9:00 a.m., Henry and nine other visa applicants waited as they were called in, one by one, for their interviews.  When it was Henry’s turn, he straightened his tie, put on his suit coat, and confidently strode into the interview room carrying a folder of important documents – his completed visa application; a receipt showing he paid the interview fee; an invitation from me; a separate letter of support from me that explained the purpose of his visit and promised to ensure Henry would return to Uganda in time for the spring semester; a letter of support from Worthy describing the book and the book tour; a letter of support from Danny DeWalt, who serves as Honorary Consul to the United States on behalf of Uganda; admissions papers, exam schedules, and report cards from medical school; and his passport.  Edward had organized all of the paperwork in the right order.

After ensuring the application had been fully completed, the first question the friendly American asked Henry was, “So, why do you want to go to the United States?”

Henry had practiced his response: “I wrote a book with an American law professor and it is being published soon.”

The interviewer’s suspicions and eyebrows leapt up, even as his fingers dove down to his computer keyboard.  “Really?  What’s the name of the book?”

“Divine Collision.”

Henry’s heartbeat kept time with the interviewer’s rapid typing and clicking.


[Squint at the screen]

[Eye Dart to Henry]

“Hey, that’s you on the cover!  Cool!  Hey everyone, come look at this book this Ugandan student wrote with an American law professor.”  A half dozen other Americans in the Embassy crowded around the screen and congratulated Henry and asked him if they could order copies yet.  (Yes, wherever books are sold & Amazon is actually shipping in advance of the release date).  A few of them recognized Worthy and assured Henry that this was a really good publisher.

The interviewer quickly read through the paperwork, pausing only to call another part of the Embassy to verify that Pepperdine was indeed working closely with the Ugandan Judiciary.

“Congratulations, Henry.  You have been granted a visa!  Just come pick it up on Monday, January 5th at 3:00 p.m.”

Henry was ecstatic, but had to be careful around the other applicants, seven of whom were denied visas.  Needless to say, I was thrilled when he told me later that day.

“How long did they give you?”  I asked expectantly.

“Come again?”

“How much time are you permitted to be in the United States?”

“He didn’t say.  I told him my school schedule, but he didn’t say how long I could stay.”

So we waited.

On Monday, Henry picked up his visa and took a bus back to school to prepare for his final exams.  But before he left, he took a photo of the visa and texted it to me.

Henry's Visa!

Henry’s Visa!



I was stunned.  The effective dates are December 31, 2015 through December 28, 2017.  We were hoping for 4 weeks – he was given 104 weeks.

Henry will be arriving at LAX on January 26th, and departing on March 1st.  He is eager to meet many of you during his stay.  We will be in Virginia, DC, NY, Texas, Tennessee, California, and perhaps other states.  We will go to Disneyland, the beach, Chipotle, In ‘n Out, Chick Fil A, Cinnabon, and Baskin Robbins.  We will be on local, national, and international radio, national television, and at a university or theater near you.  Our tentative schedule is posted here, but it will be updated continuously.  Should be fun.

Speaking of radio, after two false alarms, I will finally be on the Eric Metaxas Show today – Wednesday, January 6th for a thirty-minute segment of his two-hour show.  It airs on over a hundred radio stations, but it is easiest to find on the show’s website here.  Just click the “Listen now” text bubble.  I haven’t yet been told when during the two-hour show I will be on, but I have been promised that the interview will air on Wednesday.  The Christian Post article I wrote that he asks me about is here.

More soon, and check out the rest of this re-designed website, including the new book trailer under the Divine Collision Book tab.


After a productive summer project in four different Ugandan adult prisons, which was followed by an historic national plea bargaining conference in Kampala, the fall semester at Pepperdine Law began in earnest.  Because Divine Collision is officially being released in January, my teaching schedule was doubled up this fall so I could be more flexible to travel to book events in the spring.  This made the semester extra challenging, particularly in light of the week-long visit of a high-level delegation of Ugandan officials, the post-production and screening of the Remand film in November, and the final preparations for the book release.

In the summer of 2009, Dean Ken Starr traveled to Uganda to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Ugandan Judiciary to formalize the partnership between Pepperdine and the Judiciary.

Dean Starr and CJ Odoki Signing MOU

Dean Starr and CJ Odoki Signing MOU

As the relationship broadened and deepened, however, it became clear that an updated MOU would be needed to reflect the breadth of our partnership.  So about six months ago, we began discussing the terms of a new MOU and the location where it would be executed.  Eventually, we decided to sign the agreement in Malibu so the newly appointed Chief Justice of Uganda could follow in the footsteps of the prior two Ugandan CJs with a visit to Pepperdine.  And whereas the original MOU was with the Judiciary, the expanded MOU would be with the Justice, Law, and Order Sector, which included all 18 justice institutions in the country.

Accordingly, eight of the top Ugandan justice officials flew to Los Angeles in late October for a one-week study tour on case management and to sign the new MOU.  The delegation included the Chief Justice, the Principal Judge (head of the High Court), the Chief Registrar and Secretary of the Judiciary (administrative heads of the justice system), the Solicitor General, the Director of Public Prosecutions (chief prosecutor), a Court of Appeals Justice, and the Secretary of the Plea Bargaining Task Force.  We met with the LA County District Attorney’s Office, the LA County Public Defender’s Office, the US Federal District Court, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the Los Angeles Superior Court, the California Court of Appeals, and the California Supreme Court.

The MOU-signing ceremony was held in the law school’s Caruso Auditorium in front of a crowd of over 200.  Over the course of an hour, I interviewed each of the officials and we presented each other with mementos, prior to the official signing.  The entire event was captured on video has now been posted here.

MOU Ceremony

MOU Ceremony

Incidentally, that same week, Pepperdine kicked off the Parris Institute Distinguished speaker series by welcoming back to campus my classmate from 1993, Monty Moran, who serves as Chipotle Mexican Grill’s President and Co-CEO.  I interviewed him in front of another large crowd about how and why Chipotle has been such a success under his leadership.

With Chipotle's Monty Moran

With Chipotle’s Monty Moran

In November, the documentary film produced by Revolution Pictures was “preview screened” for the first time at Santa Monica’s historic Aero Theater before a crowd of about four hundred.

Aero Theater Marquee at Preview Screening

Aero Theater Marquee at Preview Screening

Cake with Henry's Photo in the frosting

Post-Screening Celebration Cake with Henry’s Photo Edible in the Frosting

Before the film, we had a Producer’s Dinner at the Santa Monica Loews Hotel, which featured a conversation with Baylor President Ken Starr, whose vision and overriding sense of justice gave rise to the Global Justice Program almost ten year ago.  I was privileged to join Ken on stage, along with an alum and two students who participated in the events depicted in the film as we were interviewed by Dean Tacha.

Producer's Dinner Panel with Ken Starr

Producer’s Dinner Panel with Ken Starr

Remand tells the story of how Pepperdine’s Global Justice Program has partnered with the Ugandans to bring needed change to the Ugandan criminal justice system.  The star of the film is Henry – the Ugandan boy featured in Divine Collision whom I met in a Ugandan juvenile prison nearly six years ago.  We were pleased with how well received the film was by the audience.

After the credits, Pepperdine film professor Craig Detweiler (who accompanied the film crew to Uganda both times) interviewed Revolution’s Randy Brewer, me, and a couple students in the film.  As the event was coming to a close, we Skyped in Henry from Uganda to the extreme delight of the crowd.

Henry on the Big Screen via Skype

Henry on the Big Screen via Skype

Over the past few months, the book publisher (Worthy Publishing) has been working with an awesome publicist to put together a marketing plan and speaking tour in conjunction with the book release.  This will begin in early January, but will pick up speed when Henry arrives in early February for three weeks between medical school terms.  We are currently scheduled to be in Texas, Virginia, DC, New York, and Los Angeles for speaking engagements, television and radio interviews, and film screenings.  Henry is quite excited about this upcoming trip to the United States – his first.

So far, the book reviews have quite favorable.  Bob Goff wrote a much-too-kind Forward and the book is endorsed by Ken Starr; IJM’s Gary Haugen; World Vision’s Rich Stearns; three Ugandan Justices; Amazima’s Katie Davis; Pulitzer Prize-winner Ed Larson; Olympic Gold Medalist Scott Hamilton; Federal Judge Edith Jones; Pepperdine, ACU, and LCU Presidents Andy Benton, Phil Schubert, and Tim Perrin; ESPN’s Roger Cossack; authors John Sowers, Jay Milbrandt, and Sara Hagerty; and several others.

The outside review we most eagerly anticipated was from Publisher’s Weekly, and we were thrilled with their write-up.  I am told it will be very important to book sales to have lots of pre-release sales and post-release reviews on Amazon once the book is released.  So, if you buy and read the book and are willing to write a review, I would be most grateful.

Here is another tip – pre-release, Amazon’s price fluctuates, and Amazon’s pre-release purchase policy guarantees the purchaser the lowest price between the dates purchase and actual shipping.  More on this here.  (Also, for purposes of sales statistics, purchases made on Amazon that include more than one unit only count as one unit sold.  So, if you feel compelled to buy more than one copy of the book, please buy them in separate transactions).

So, when will the book be available?  Soon.  Very soon.  While the official release date is January 26, 2016, the book has already been printed and will be shipped to online and brick-and-mortar retailers in ten days.  I am told that the online retailers will actually ship to customers before Christmas and that brick-and-mortar retailers will have it on their shelves no later than January 26th.  It will be in Barnes & Nobles, independent book stores, and Wal-Marts around the country beginning just after Christmas.

Since I am a huge fan of audio books, I was pleased when it was decided that Divine Collision would be recorded and available on amazon and audible.com by the official release date also.  I had a blast recording the difficult-to-pronounce words for the professional readers, and actually sitting in while Henry’s first-person parts were recorded in the studio by a former Shakespeare actor.

Recording Pronunciations at Studio

Recording Pronunciations at Studio

With Jason L. White, Reading Henry's Parts in Divine Collision

With Jason L. White, Reading Henry’s Parts in Divine Collision

The reader for the other parts will record in Nashville, so I will have to trust that he gets the pronunciations correct.

Henry continues to excel in medical school and is eager to meet many of you in about two months.


The fall semester started out in a full sprint and has only picked up speed over the course of the first four weeks.  The advance planning of our Parris Institute (named for its generous benefactors Rex and Carrol Parris) led to a smooth and inspirational launch week.  Bob Goff headlined the final day with a challenge to students live audaciously into the life God has for them.  Earlier in the week, I had a chance to address the incoming student on the topic of living and practicing law with character.  Still can’t get away from the sports analogies.

Baseball Bat


Gash helmetA few days later, in Uganda, Henry received another strong set of grades for his second semester of medical school.  He was one of only 200 of the original 500 who started the program to pass all of his classes and advance to the second year (of six).  Last week, he began the fall semester at Kampala International University and is taking Microbiology, Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and Anatomy & Physiology.  He is thrilled to be back in school.

He is even more excited about his upcoming visit to the United States this next February between semesters.  This three-week visit will roughly coincide with the release of Divine Collision – our book that tells the story about how our improbable meeting in a Ugandan juvenile prison in January of 2010 changed both of our lives permanently.  It was surreal receiving a couple boxes last month of what are called “Advance Reader Copies” of the book, which are given to potential endorsers prior to the official release of the book.


So far, I am humbled and honored to have endorsements from many of my heroes in both law practice and in faith, and several more are on the way (Ken Starr, Bob Goff (writing the Forward), Gary Haugen, Judge Edith Jones to name a few).  The hardcover version of the book is scheduled to be in bookstores around the country on January 26th, though I understand it may ship a few weeks earlier if ordered online where the book is currently available for pre-sale at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and other online retailers.

It has also been quite fun to see the documentary film (Remand) near its completion.  We received from the Revolution Pictures a near final cut over the weekend and we will be doing some final editing before the first advance showing.  I am pleased to announce that the first “preview screening” of the film will be Saturday, November 21st at 7:30 p.m. at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica. Prior to the screening will be a Producers’ Dinner at Loew’s Hotel in Santa Monica, which will be headlined by the visionary for our Global Justice Program, Baylor President (and former Pepperdine Law Dean) Ken Starr, and the Executive Producer of the film, former Professor Janet Kerr.  The dinner program will also feature students and alums who lived the events depicted in the film.  At the preview screening, I will be joined in a Q & A by Director Andy Reale and one of the producers (Pepperdine Film Professor Craig Detweiler), as well as several students.  Tickets for both the screening and the dinner go on sale today at the event website.

The month before the preview screening of Remand, we will host a delegation of high ranking Ugandan officials for a one-week study tour, during which Pepperdine and the Ugandan Judiciary will formally sign an expansive Memorandum of Understanding charting the course for the future collaboration between our two institutions.  Among the delegation will be the Chief Justice of Uganda, the Principal Judge (head of the trial court), the Solicitor General, the Secretary of the Judiciary, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Director of the First Parliamentary Counsel (chief legislative drafter for the country), Justice K (Pepperdine partnership liaison), and several others.  The signing ceremony will be at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, October 28th in the Caruso Auditorium in the law school, and will be preceded by “A Conversation with the Chief Justice of Uganda.”  All are invited to attend.