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The Entrepreneur:  Benjamin’s Quest for Success.

In the busy estates of Nairobi where dreams collide with the harsh realities of life, Benjamin Mutunga’s life story emerges as a beacon of hope and renewal. His journey, woven with threads of transformation and the unwavering belief in second chances, paints a portrait of triumph over adversity.

Emerging from the cocoon of confinement, Benjamin embraced the chaos of the city with an unwavering spirit and a newfound sense of purpose. Armed with the tools of his trade and a heart ablaze with ambition, he ventured into the world of bread selling.

With each loaf of bread sold, Benjamin carves a path of resilience. He wears his journey as a badge of honor, a testament to the indomitable spirit that refuses to be bound by the chains of circumstance.

Benjamin Mutunga running his business

Born in the serene side of Machakos County, Benjamin ventured into the city in pursuit of his entrepreneurial dreams in 2014. “I had found success in the business of selling milk and bread and was making up to Ksh. 4 000 sales profit on a good day. Unfortunately, my life took an unexpected turn in 2018 when I got arrested and subsequently convicted for the offense of manslaughter and sentenced to serve three years in prison,” he says. Despite the despair of incarceration, Benjamin refused to let his spirit be broken. Instead, he turned his time behind bars into an opportunity for growth and self-improvement.

Embracing the programs offered by the Kenya Prisons Service in partnership with Crime Si Poa, Benjamin focused on the entrepreneurship, spiritual, and psycho-education classes that instilled in him a newfound sense of purpose and leadership. He diligently honed these skills as he envisioned a brighter future beyond the prison confines.

Benjamin returned home upon release determined to rebuild his life and reintegrate into society. Despite facing numerous challenges, including financial setbacks and initial skepticism of the community, he remained focused.

With the support of CSP and the encouragement of fellow entrepreneurs like Walaika Brian, he embarked on the journey of resurrecting his business. However, it was not smooth sailing as the road was fraught with obstacles. From losing his hard-earned money on the way to the bank to struggling with a reduced customer base and limited resources, Benjamin faced setbacks that would have discouraged many. Yet, his unwavering determination and the support of his community propelled him forward.

For Benjamin, every sale represents more than just financial transactions, it symbolizes his resilience, his refusal to be defined by past mistakes, and his unwavering belief in the power of redemption. It is the ultimate audacity of hope.

Flavier Mwika(Prisons & Reintegration Manager) left, Benjamin Mutunga(Ex-inmate) middle, Hemstone Mugala(Psychologist) right.

Crime Si Poa (CSP) Programs Manager for Prisons and Reintegration Flavier Mwika says Benjamin’s story is not just one of personal triumph; it is a testament to the transformative potential of the program, which seeks to empower inmates with the skills, support, and resources necessary for successful reintegration into society. She calls on well-wishers to support Benjamin in his quest to expand his business to incorporate milk selling to have a sustainable income stream to meet his daily needs.

Benjamin’s journey of redemption and entrepreneurship serves as a beacon of hope for all those who have stumbled along life’s path. It reminds us that no matter how bleak the circumstances may seem, with resilience, determination, and a supportive community, the human spirit can overcome even the most daunting challenges, turning adversity into opportunity and darkness into light.

Read about Benjamin’s homecoming here: https://crimesipoa.org/it-is-never-too-late/

David Alela playing a guitar during a church service in Kisumu

David Alela’s Redemption Song. 

The pain of serving two decades behind bars for what he maintains was a wrongful conviction has not dampened his unwavering spirit for community service. Gifted with golden fingers, he softly strums beautiful chords on his guitar as he savors the sweet air of freedom. He has just come back home from cleaning up the house of a community member who has been ostracized by the community because of mental health challenges. The man was also suffering from acute jigger infestation on his feet and hands which David had just removed. 

David Alela cleaning up a man who is suffering from acute jigger infestation on his feet and hands.

As the day of his release drew near, Alela who had been going through the pre-release re-integration journey with the Crime Si Poa team led by Bilha Achieng and the Prisons chaplaincy, was at peace. A focused and determined man who decided to use his time behind bars productively, Alela can be regarded as a jack of many trades for which he is also a master. He pursued education, earning his Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE), after which he sharpened his legal knowledge and became a paralegal. Not content, the multi-talented David also trained as a theologian, and acquired vocational training in motor vehicle panel beating and automotive engineering.  

To prepare for his smooth reintegration upon release, David undertook the Crime Si Poa psychoeducation training, graduating in 2022 with a certificate. 

David Alela with Rodgers kale the senior superintendent of prison with inmates from Kisumu Maximum Prison

David ’s homecoming was a celebration of love that could have easily been mistaken for a political homecoming. A model inmate, Alela was  Neighbors, relatives, and well-wishers lined up along the road leading to his home in song and dance, eagerly awaiting his arrival where three different churches and the area Chief had gathered to welcome him. 

Speeches from family members and friends were clear on one thing; Alela’s innocence, insisting that he had been wrongfully convicted. His 74-year-old mother, overcome with joy, embraced him tightly, as she looked into his eyes with a smile. She expressed her gratitude to Crime Si Poa and the partnered church: Deliverance Church, acknowledging their support ‘during the dark days’ 

A man who lets the faith he professes lead his actions, Alela has wasted no time in sharing his gift with the world. He plays the guitar in church, is using his talent to uplift congregations and inspire hope as he speaks on redemption, forgiveness, and the promise of a new beginning. 

 What’s more, he is quickly assimilating in the Crime Si Poa team in Western Kenya with planned activities in prisons, schools and the community. 

Alela’s impact has extended far beyond the walls of the church. Recognizing the healing power of psychoeducation, he has become deeply involved in community outreach programs, volunteering his time to mentor at-risk youth on alcohol, drugs and substance abuse, offering guidance, support, and hope to those who needed it most. 

Today, Alela’s guitar serves as more than just an instrument—it’s a symbol of hope, resilience, and the enduring power of the human spirit to rise above adversity, inspiring others to believe in the possibility of second chances and the promise of a brighter tomorrow. 

His journey from incarceration to community impact is a testament to the transformative potential that lies within each of us, waiting to be unlocked and shared with the world. 

Visit https://crimesipoa.org/prison-and-aftercare-program-phoenix/ to support our Prisons and Re-integration program 

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Hope in the Midst of Silent Struggles

By Levis Jilani 

Time seems to stretch endlessly within the cold and unforgiving prison cell walls where Charles* (not his real name) has spent nearly 15 years of his life. The walls seem to close in on him with each passing day. He was imprisoned for a crime he insists he never committed; defilement.  Communication was a luxury that Charles lost the moment he stepped into prison. No phones, no internet, no letters. His heart ached for his wife and children. He often wondered how they were coping without him. Did they have enough to eat? Were his children going to school? How were they managing to pay bills?  Same routine days on end made life in prison monotonous. Charles had made a few friends among the inmates, but he found solace in the corners of his mind. Bitterness often took a toll on him, and he felt that the people who had falsely accused him did not deserve anything better. He slowly sunk into depression  

However, Charles’ hopes got rekindled with time. Determination to reconnect with his family after his incarceration grew stronger. He started attending a spiritual program within the prison, and soon realized that the program went beyond the spiritual and delved into skills development and psycho education. “I needed this so badly. So much was going on in my mind and I was sinking into depression, I wanted revenge when I got out. I am thankful that Crime Si Poa came in good time to offer us psychosocial support,” says Charles. 

 Michael* (also not his real name,)  says he had been influenced by peer pressure into a life of drug addiction. His life took a turn after being sentenced as he could not access the drugs in the prison, and this made him sink into depression.  During the psychoeducation sessions, he was counselled on anger management, conflict resolution and drugs and substance abuse. “These sessions have really helped me. I remain sober, and on my recovery journey,” he says.  

These are just a few cases of inmates suffering from mental health challenges, requiring urgent help. Data from 2020 International Journal of Health Sciences and Research states that 63.2 percent of inmates in Kenya suffer from a range of mental disorders caused by confinement related stress, long prison sentence, delays in determination of appeals, frustration due to failure of appeal terms and bad reports from home such as one’s family suffering. Charles says that inmates face many challenges which could impact on them negatively. “This place can be a brooding place of survival criminal mindsets because we get different characters with different motives. Some are burdened by poverty and even if released, will commit a crime to return to prison where food and other basic needs are provided by the government. Such people need help,” he says. 

He calls for more sensitization, skills development, and psychosocial support programs to help stop recidivism. “Since I joined the church ministry, I have developed leadership skills and began mentoring others. I am glad that at the end of my sentence, I will be able to positively impact lives with the knowledge I have.”  During a psychoeducation session organized by Crime Si Poa at the correctional facility, Prison Corporal Mary Makena, a Pastor at Nairobi West Prison emphasizes that the shift from familiar environments to incarceration is a significant contributor to the mental health struggles faced by inmates.  

“Some were accustomed to good meals, comfortable sleep, and freedom of movement. However, upon conviction, everything changes drastically, making it difficult for them to accept and adapt.’’ said Mary, adding that inmates engaged in psychoeducation and spiritual programs within the prison have benefitted mentally “As a patron, I have interacted with many beneficiaries of the program. They share their struggles, and indeed, they go through tough times. However, things are changing for the better due to the weekly transformative spiritual and psychoeducation sessions that have become integral in their lives .” Mary explains. 

Hemstone Mugala, a consultant psychologist at Crime Si Poa, emphasizes the constant need for therapy among inmates. Some find it challenging opening up, necessitating one-on-one daily counseling session. This approach has yielded positive outcomes, as many are now comfortable sharing their concerns with prison officers.” Charles, who looks forward to his release in December, says he anticipates reuniting with his family in Kisii . As a teacher by profession, I aspire to utilize the knowledge gained from the program to sensitize young people in my community and also offer psychosocial support to those who may going through various life challenges,” he concludes. 

To support our mental wellness program in prisons, click DONATE 

Ends 

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Shadows of Innocence: A Journey Through the Backstreets.

It was on a Wednesday morning as the sun began its ascent over the horizon, casting a warm, golden glow that painted the sky in hues of orange and pink, I found myself on a journey into the heart of a backstreet joint of Majengo area in Githurai, Nairobi County.

I had heard whispers of its existence and activities after one of our partners from Community Pop John, Simone Ceciliani, gave me a chilling brief, a place where the vulnerable of society met and conducted their businesses in secrecy.

As Simione and I headed to ‘Kije’ place locally branded, the narrow pathway was dimly lit, and the air was thick with loud music from all directions. The tales of forgotten dreams and desperations were evident as we encountered an area of people living in the middle of a pub zone with commercial sex workers queuing at each entrance waiting for clients. Open sewer lines welcomed us as we put our body muscles to practice through the ‘hop, skip and jump’ motion. A mixed untold smell filled the air with children running around oblivious of the hazardous situation surrounding them.

My heart ached as I observed a group of young individuals huddled in a dimly lit corner. Their faces were etched with weariness, their eyes reflecting a myriad of emotions – pain, numbness, and a longing for escape. Despite the sorry state, the young men welcomed us as we engaged them in a conversation on the consequences of engaging in criminal activities and drug abuse.

“Life is so tough, some of us here have families but no jobs. Most of us dropped out of school because of poverty in our homes. We have been unable to secure anything meaningful. We don’t engage in stealing because we want to. If it were you, would you let your child sleep hungry when you can get it from someone else?” one of them posed. Well, I took time to digest that but at the same time did not want to judge him.

As our session in that particular place came to an end, and as we moved to the next street, we were signaled to pass by a base that was bushy and with houses built with iron sheets that were brownish in color, from a distance we could see smoke, but we were not aware what was happening. When we got close to the ratchet house, we were welcomed by some young men who were using drugs.

The room was fully packed with almost 40 young men between the ages of 20 to 30 years who were freely smoking Madibi (cocaine) as it is locally referred to. They would fill the powdered stuff into aluminum foil tubes and sniff it to the end. We could tell there was more than cocaine, they equally chewed khat and smoked cigarettes and bhang. The room also serves as a sleeping den during night hours as there was evidence of torn pieces of mattresses scattered all over

The same script of lack of employment and using drugs as an escape route showered our ears. They engage in all sorts of criminal activities to get money which they use to buy food for their families as well as restock their drugs.

The saddest part was the presence of a 5-year-old in the room. His innocence was snatched away too soon by the harsh reality of this environment. His fragile frame was a stark reminder that the destructive forces of substance abuse spared no one. The boy was placed next to a man sniffing “madibi” and releasing all the smoke in the atmosphere. The mother to the boy was idling around there looking shaggy with a piece of cloth covering her mouth while saliva flowed freely. She wore torn clothes, looked confused and sleepy, and could not utter a single word

As we continued with the engagement, giving them our assurance that we were harmless, stories of broken families, shattered dreams, and a sense of hopelessness that had driven them to the edge started coming out. The substances they sought solace in were a temporary escape from a world that had failed to provide them with alternatives.

As they spoke, it became evident that this backstreet had become a refuge for these young souls, a place where they found company amidst their shared struggles. Their tales revealed the systemic issues that had pushed them to this point – lack of access to education, limited job opportunities, and the absence of positive role models. It was a cycle that seemed impossible to break.

Yet, amid the darkness, glimmers of hope emerged. Some of these young individuals spoke about their dreams, their aspirations that had been buried but not forgotten. They yearned for a way out, for a chance to rewrite their stories. It was a poignant reminder that beneath the surface of despair, there were still sparks of resilience and determination.

The report by the National Authority for the Campaign Against Drugs (Nacada) released in May this year states that children as young as six years old are now abusing drugs, something that should be worrying the whole country. It is evident that many children have become passive smokers after being exposed by their guardians. The truth is that they eventually get addicted.

After a whole day of engagement leaving the backstreet, I carried their stories with me. They were stories of pain, yes, but also stories of strength and potential. The journey opened my eyes to the urgency of addressing the root causes of youth crime and substance abuse and providing support, opportunities, and a renewed sense of purpose.

My journey to the backstreet is a testament to the fact that even in the most challenging environments, there is an inherent desire for change. It is a reminder that behind the statistics and the stereotypes, there are real lives with real dreams. As I walked away from that backstreet, I vowed to amplify their voices and work towards a future where no child’s innocence is lost to the shadows of substance abuse. I however need partners on board to achieve this and save the future generation.

For a drug-free society, change begins with you, will you be able to be the voice to the voiceless by speaking and spreading informative messages to advocate against crime and drug abuse in your area?

My parting shot; The best way to predict the future is to create it together. – Joe Echevarria

Cynthia Kawira

NO Time For Excuses – Cynthia’s Story.

In the heart of the bustling city of Nairobi, where everybody migrates to look for opportunities, Cynthia Kawira has been hopeful of gaining meaningful employment having graduated from The Cooperative University of Kenya as a social worker in 2022. 

As the days turned into weeks and weeks into months, Cynthia’s optimism began to wane. The job applications she sent out seemed to disappear into an abyss, and the few interviews she managed to secure ended with polite rejections. 

She is among the growing youthful generation brimming with aspirations and ambitions but facing the unyielding tide of youth unemployment. She however did not get discouraged and decided to take up volunteer work to enhance her skills 

“I took up the paralegal training offered by Crime Si Poa so that I can provide legal awareness to my community members rather than just sitting idle. I am now volunteering with the organization, conducting youth empowerment programs in Kajiado County; educating them on access to justice, crime, drugs and substance abuse, and environmental conservation. I look forward to specializing in counseling issues in legal law, emotional and psychological matters,” she says. 

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) report released early this year, the number of Kenyans without jobs increased to more than 2.97 million in the last quarter of 2022 from 2.89 million in the previous quarter, underscoring the labor market woes in the wake of elevated inflation and reduced activity in the dominant agricultural sector. The report states that more than half of the numbers are youthful population, underlining the growing crisis of youth unemployment in the country. 

Speaking on Prime Time TV47 to commemorate this year’s International Day of Youth with the theme; Green Skills for Youth, towards a sustainable world, Cynthia underscored the fact that as much as colleges and universities were releasing many graduates in the job market, few are able to secure opportunities, and most end up in casual jobs. 

“Most youths find it hard to accept that they are unemployed after studying hard and graduating, hence feel uncomfortable to work in areas not in their line of career. I, however, implore them to take up the jobs to develop their skills because the job market requires different skill sets; you never know where you may land. It also gives you an opportunity to learn leadership skills,” she said during the show 

Cynthia, however, called on the government to review the education curriculum so that it is skills-based and promotes entrepreneurship rather than focusing only on passing exams. This, she said, would help in addressing the issue of youth unemployment.  

At the same time, Crime Si Poa Executive Director, Mr. Peter Ouko, underscored the fact that youth need not consider skills acquired in technical studies at the polytechnics and vocational centers as inferior to what others learn in university. He encouraged them to take up the courses as the demand for technical jobs was high worldwide. He further called on the government to be consistent in youth-centric programs as lack of opportunities is what forces many youths into crime. 

Pete and Cynthia during the show

Having founded Crime Si Poa while in prison following a wrongful conviction, Peter said that 75 % of inmates belong to the youth bracket with some having been wrongfully convicted. “Crime Si Poa started through sensitization against crime from prison and we used our networks outside to reach out to the youth,” he added. 

Noting that there is a need to create alternatives to address the issue of unemployment, he called on the government to simplify the process of the acquisition of passports so that many youths can seek and access opportunities in other countries. 

Click this link to follow the complete interview: LIVE ||TV47 WEEKEND EDITION || TO THE POINT 

Mutunga is welcomed by family members after his arrival at home

It is Never Too Late.

Stepping out from Nairobi West Prison into the limelight, Benjamin Mutunga is struck by the overwhelming number of people waiting to receive him. The long drive home soon begins and he marvels at the Nairobi Expressway that was built when he was away from home.

The city soon fades behind and gives way to the vast Kapiti plains. After two hours, Benjamin arrives in his neighborhood and everyone, from the local security representatives to church leaders, seems to be walking quickly with joyous faces as they receive him at his village in Muthengei, Machakos County.

Though looking confused on their expectations, he seems excited to be finally back home.

In June 2023, Benjamin was released from prison after serving a six years sentence. What awaited him was not just a reunion with loved ones, but also an outpouring of support from his community. Accompanied by three chaplains from the Nairobi West Prison, Crime Si Poa Wellness Officer Ms. Claire Kwamboka, and Programmes lead Ms. Flavier Mwika, Benjamin lets a deep and joyful sound rise from his soul.

Upon conviction, Benjamin never imagined that he would regain freedom. “I thought about my family, my community, and my business and wondered how I got myself into such a place. I was so devastated, lost hope and sometimes I thought my end had come. However, I came to learn that prison was not a detention place, but a correctional facility, which had many opportunities to help one reform. This is how I got introduced to Crime Si Poa, a youth-centered organization that educates and empowers young people to build ownership around safety, justice, and socio-economic issues. I am glad that they not only target young people but also the older generation,” he excitedly says.

Flavier Mwika says some of the opportunities Crime Si Poa offers to inmates include training them to be paralegals so that they can support other inmates and the community to understand the law and access justice. “We also offer spiritual guidance and psycho-education as many inmates go through mental health challenges during their incarceration, with research showing high levels of depression and anxiety among inmates. “Detention does not derogate the rights and fundamental freedoms all human beings are entitled to,” says Flavier.

Mutunga posing with CSP staff Flavier(left) and Claire(right)

Benjamin actively participated in the psychoeducation classes that were very instrumental in helping him deal with anger, develop resilience and self-acceptance. Prior to his conviction, he had been involved in drugs and substance use. “The sensitization forums in the prison have really been instrumental in helping me stop using drugs. I have also learned to let go and ask for forgiveness following my actions that cost my freedom. I felt equally guilty and pained when my daughter passed away during my incarceration. I thank Lavington Vineyard church for helping me with spiritual guidance,” says Benjamin.

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Hope Restored in a Second Chance.

As the day was breaking on Friday 27th Jan, Joseph Kang’ethe knew that his long-awaited day had arrived. He could smell the freedom that he long desired for almost two decades that he had been behind bars.  He had dreamt of this day and even fantasized about it all the time in his mind. He so long desired it.

And at midmorning, the gates of Nakuru men’s prison squeaked slowly and opened him to the horizon of all possibilities where he could see all the things that he had hoped and dreamt of past the prison walls. This was it! With just a suitcase containing his clothes and with a novel in hand, he took the first step towards his freedom. Mr. Kang’ethe was arrested in 2005 but he remained on remand up until 2009 when he was convicted and found guilty by a court in Molo.

(Pic. Kang'ethe leaving Nakuru Main Prison)

In prison, he had taken up vocational courses which he hopes will help him gain income and speed his reintegration.  “I have gained skills in metal works, leather works, and also tailoring which I hope will come in handy when I settle at home,” said Mr. Kang’ethe while addressing journalists outside the prison gates. 

With the glaring fact of inadequate resources, he called on well-wishers to help him get a sewing machine so that he can also teach other young people how to sew as he gets his livelihood. “I will start my tailoring shop and I ask people of goodwill to help me get a sewing machine, I want to pass this knowledge to young people as I caution them against engaging in crime,” he noted.

 Prison officers described him as a reformed and reliable man, traits that saw him granted the coveted “trustee” status in prison. (A trustee is a trustworthy and well-disciplined inmate who leads and mentors the others to ensure order in the daily activities in prison.)

Joseph was one of the Crime Si Poa beneficiaries in Nakuru Men’s Prison. He religiously attended the pre-release psychosocial and wellness classes run under our prison centric Phoenix program.

“Crime Si Poa has helped in my stay in prison, and they told me even when I go back home, I should strive to live harmoniously with others and stay in peaceful environments,” says Joseph.

A senior Prison Officer, Superintendent Odera described him as a transformed man: “I am happy and glad that Joseph is being released from Prison as a reformed man. We had elevated him to trustee status when he was here in prison,” he commented. “I urge the community to embrace him fully as he is transformed so that he can share his skills with other people.” Stated SP. Odera

After a 3 hours’ drive from prison accompanied by prisons and Crime Si Poa officials and battery of journalists, Joseph was received with jubilation and dances at their home in Kuresoi North. Overjoyed family members and friends could not hide their joy as they embraced their lost son who had been behind bars for almost 20 years. His 95-year-old mother was particularly delighted to see her son. “I’m glad that he came back home when I’m still alive and I can see him,” she said.

Crime Si Poa Phoenix program works in prisons and Borstal institutions in concert with the Prisons welfare and spiritual departments through a package of services including spiritual and psychosocial support, mentorship, entrepreneurship training, legal awareness and support services and talent development amongst others. This is all geared towards the reformation of those who have been in conflict with the law and their subsequent reintegration into the community upon release.

We thank our partners and The Answer Foundation for their support in the program

See links to the media coverage

https://nation.africa/kenya/counties/nakuru/after-nearly-two-decades-in-jail-this-is-his-first-day-out-4101798

https://youtu.be/AyZn9EuYb1o

https://youtu.be/HYjfrsqKwPY

https://youtu.be/sTo4EWorhUc