Silver lining for prisoners after gates opened
June 30, 2020

My name is Sarah Odima. I was a Recruiting Agent sourcing jobs for women overseas. My passion has always been, to see a woman living a comfortably, without harming others and earning a livelihood in ventures that avert her conflict with the law as I did. 

In 2014 after coming back from Saudi Arabia where I worked, I realized that many more Kenyans needed job opportunities that were very available abroad. I was well-connected and had succeeded in the job I had. I wanted to join hands with other women and to be a channel to them acquiring jobs in the Middle East. 

I had never interacted with men seeking jobs in the Middle East and the one who went through my hands proved that it would be worth a try. Soon, the company he had gone to, needed more men from here. I placed an ad, applications overwhelmed my desk, recruited, followed due process, but was later called with information that two of my clients were persona- non- grata in Dubai. They had omitted that information in their application to our bureau. Their visa requests were declined.

One early morning as I was going about my business, two policemen accompanied by 3 young men whose visas had been denied came to pick me up. I had a case to answer and we went to Central police station. The process was arduous. I spent the night on a cold cell floor waiting for the following morning, to know my fate. I could only pray for all to go well since I had all the evidences. The next day I was lucky to be granted bail and was out.

Freedom was great. I however had a one-month deadline to reimburse money in excesses of Ksh 250, 000 in a month. I certainly cold not raise that money and the case ended in court. On 28th July 2017, I was convicted. I was then taken to Langata Women’s Maximum Security Prison, to serve a 3-year sentence. 

I felt disconnected from everything about me, being like a tree that was blossoming but was suddenly cut. The tree has its roots beneath the soil. I held on the hope that someday it would be watered and will blossom again. I did not know for sure who would play that role, then.

Langata Women Prison got me interested in courses and activities, I had three years to do them. I chose Theology of education and by extension, discipleship courses, Computer classes, mindset lessons and activities like cross -stitching, basketry(Miya), and beadwork. These supplemented my daily routine duty as an office cleaner at the administration block. I was also given a chance to be a leader in the same courses that I was doing and was able to acquire teaching skills and as a ward representative.

Being a leader therein, made it easy for me to cope with the prison’s lifestyle. I also learnt about the challenges my fellow inmates were facing. I offered even legal advice to them when I could, also learning about my human rights which I had previously never paid attention to. 

Through biblical studies I learnt obedience and submission to authorities which earned me favour with both wardens and inmates.  These relationships started working positively towards my exit from prison.

 I was introduced to Clean Start after being behind bars for 7 months. The organization was running Spear Programme in the prison and I was selected as one of 15. The programme for me was like a wrap up of all my cumulative life learnings. It was then that I realized, I had lost the case because I was unaware of my rights, lacked confidence and was shifting blame to other people. I understood that I needed to take responsibility of everything that was happening in my life. I recognized that I had a choice and was now in control of my own life. I was not only equipped to be accountable for my own actions, but it was a step toward healing.

After the graduation, I applied for a review of my case. After presenting my case, there was no objection to my release. I was offered a diversion via Community Service Order. This succeeded and I went back home to my family.

Clean Start team followed me up and encouraged me. They wanted to know each step of my journey after prison and more so because I had been a beneficiary of their programme. This gave me even more hope and focus towards what I was praying for daily, a second chance.

 I am now working at Clean start as a Life Coach. I am giving back to the society through application of the very skills they imparted in me whilst in prison. Working here, has offered me a platform for gratitude and offers me renewed perspectives, to never take anything in life, for granted. 

I have a choice and options now, but there are fellow women and their children I left in prison that lack these privileges.  Mine is to offer the best of myself to see that they too have the same access as I do, when they leave prison. That they have someone holding their hand, each step of the way.  My major focus here is on systemic change in the Criminal justice system and successful reintegration, that allows the women to battle vulnerability, stigma, trauma, rejection from family and community/society and the lack of income. I am changing these narratives with others like myself at Clean Start.

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