Teresa Njoroge shares her story on why she is passionate about making a difference in the lives of prisoners, ex-prisoners and their families.
“My name is Teresa Njoroge I am a mother of two awesome kids, wife, An optimistic realist and resilient.
Having graduated at the top of my class with a Bachelors of Commerce in Banking & Finance from the University of Pune, I went on to be a professional banker.
During my time in banking I grew up through the ranks steadily from 2003 to 2009 when I was a Premier Relationship Manager. I perfected my art in relationship management.
Life is such an unpredictable journey. No one truly knows what tomorrow holds. My life got completely shaken up, changed and re-arranged, when I got arrested in January of 2009, accused & charged then wrongfully convicted, which lead to my imprisonment- in March of 2011. This miscarriage of justice, upended my life!
Walking the very shoes of women who go through the justice system in Kenya and finally being imprisoned with my daughter, made me see and experience firsthand what life is like living behind bars. Serving time at Langata Women Maximum Prison, gave me time to listen to the stories of all those incarcerated women and back track and see where they had been.
Prisons can be dark places, imagine the weight of all that brokenness, despair and alienation collected between four thick walls!
But that notwithstanding, I knew that something had to be done to bring hope and meaning to the lives of those affected. Most importantly to reduce recidivism and even suicide. This is why I am passionate to purposely make a difference and social impact in the eradication of poverty, illiteracy and petty crimes.
LUCKY TO HAVE SUPPORT…
I received and continue to receive tremendous support from my family, relatives and friends. Which I will forever be super grateful for. This has formed the foundation of my bouncing back. It’s this support that made me feel I had to extend my hand to the millions of others who did not have this kind of support system for them to get back on their feet.
Even though I later got vindicated and cleared by the court of Appeal in February of 2013, way long after serving my sentence, the idea of starting SMIMS- “Support Me In My Shoes” had already been born. Given all the incredible support that I continued to receive from family and friends, and the desire that I now had to support those that I had met through this experience, as well as others affected by it, this was a calling and I couldn’t turn my back and just think of progressing myself.
I knew I had to work towards changing the way individuals, private institutions and state governments view correctional facilities and help transform those affected.
ABOUT SMIMS “SUPPORT ME IN MY SHOES” …
My initiative is SMIMS is about being supportive without being judgmental. Supporting those in difficulty or craving for a second chance by putting ourselves in their very shoes.
The mission is driven by Proverbs 31:8-9 – “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
I thought of starting SMIMS to end the stigma of incarceration and to help the incarcerated, the formerly incarcerated and their loved ones through provision of basic necessities, literacy, education, personal development and the removal of societal barriers to achieve their dreams. When the barriers are removed, those who live in the long shadow of prison can create their own opportunities.
We live in a world that is full of problems, and we are the solutions to those problems.
As an individual, I learned that trust should only be earned and one has to be very cautious in any dealing. You can have it all together one minute and the next it’s all gone.
It takes years to build your reputation and it can be destroyed in a flash. The only security you have is in your creator. The “valley” times mature you significantly, I learned a lot of life lessons through this experience. It measured my character but most importantly I developed compassion and even though I felt betrayed, I did not lose faith in humanity.
God’s plan for your life is not a straight line. There are curves, detours, U-turns and shortcuts at the end of the day, keep doing what is right and keep your faith, God knows what He’s doing. He’s strategically directing your steps.
OTHER LESSONS LEARNED…
It became very clear that imprisonment disproportionately affects individuals and families living in poverty. Poverty, is one of the major reasons and whose effects lead to individuals being behind bars. When released, often with no prospects for employment, former prisoners are generally subject to socio-economic exclusion and are thus vulnerable to an endless cycle of poverty, marginalization, criminality and imprisonment. Thus, imprisonment contributes directly to the impoverishment of the prisoner, of his family (with a significant cross-generational effect) and of society by creating future victims and reducing future potential economic performance.
Other major common causes of imprisonment are illiteracy and marital / family issues which again adversely affect the poor.
PIECING MY LIFE BACK TOGETHER…
To say this has been tough, is an understatement. Please note that most of the ex-inmates go back into prison within three years of being released, while in extreme cases they give up hope and commit suicide! There are psychological issues to deal with; imprisonment takes away your self esteem, your persona, it’s shameful and very embarrassing to even explain, since it’s connected to criminality. Everything that you ever worked on as far as integrity and character are concerned, especially if you are not a criminal and are innocent, is all washed away. You now have this tag of an ex-convict. Your record is tainted and not trustworthy.
Most people do not know how to engage with you let alone give you a job. It’s not easy re-integrating back into society, after losing so much and now fighting for a second chance. It’s tough. I gathered my strength and made a pact not to dwell on the past, or on what had happened to me. Life happens to everyone. I decided to use what I had going for me. I created new dreams based on my experience and the leading of the Holy Spirit. I created new alliances, and set out new goals to achieve, one of them being creating the awareness of what those affected by imprisonment were going through. It’s now exactly three years since my release and I can already tell that it’s just the beginning of possibilities that I never even thought of or imagined!
HOW AM USING THE EXPERIENCE TO GIVE BACK…
I am only one voice of many. An advocate for change.
One may not recognize the pain and suffering experienced by inmates and ex-inmates. The judging and the rejection is rife.
My goal is to create national awareness of the issues of prison, the effects of and vicious cycle brought about by imprisonment and the challenges of re-integration back into society. Being on the front line, diving into the source of the problem and coming up with unique solutions for the problems.
By telling their stories, I hope to end the stigma around the incarcerated and the ex-inmates as it is as deadly as the incarceration itself.
Am producing a feature length documentary ‘Take the shackles off’, which will not only share my personal story and programmes at SMIMS, but also stories of other inmates, ex- inmates and most importantly reach out to experts in the fields of psychology, counseling, the judiciary and the prison system as a whole.
ACTIVITIES OF SMIMS
SMIMS partners with other volunteers and we offer entrepreneurship programs for Reformed Prisoners & Ex-Prisoners, Youth and Women who are from very humble backgrounds and low means that seeks to Inspire, Empower and Equip them through training programs, provision of basic necessities and start up capital.
The main aim is for them to gain basic business management skills to run sustainable businesses and improve livelihoods by inspiring them, empowering them and equipping them to become decently self – reliant.
We provide an ongoing relationship of learning, challenging them to think differently and approach the challenges of life with an open mind.
Mentoring program – during this process we commit to coming alongside these individuals and assist them in navigating the challenges they might face during the reintegration process. In doing so, we help to create reference points for them where reference points may have never existed.
THE IMPACT SO FAR…
SMIMS has systematically continued to educate society in ways to engage and support our target group.
When I see an ex-inmate being stable and able to grow decently– not just survive, it gives me so much joy and hope for the many others in progress.
Many individuals have come out to support the cause, both nationally and internationally and am greatly humbled that they can see the value of the cause, and the many lives that are being transformed due to their input.
SMIMS is merely the platform from which our volunteers / public can change the lives of those incarcerated, and in turn, their lives are changed. Many volunteers leave prison feeling that they learnt more than they gave. They are able to use their talents and what they know to influence lives and are inspired to use their business skills to do good.
Different media, have covered the SMIMS story, thus enabling in the creation of the awareness far and wide and hence more support.
Churches are coming on board with creative ways that they can support both inmates & ex-inmates while giving their congregations opportunities to live their faith.
That said, I continue to pursue new and innovative ways to reach out more to the society and have more partnerships that will scale the impact even higher. There Is a lot to be done.
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