TALES OF COURAGE: Rebuilding my life after prison   - Daily Nation

TALES OF COURAGE: Rebuilding my life after prison  

Friday September 14 2018

Natasha Johnson was charged with robbery with violence when she was just 25. She is pictured here holding one of the products she currently makes. PHOTO| BRIAN WACHIRA

Natasha Johnson was charged with robbery with violence when she was just 25. She is pictured here holding one of the products she currently makes. PHOTO| BRIAN WACHIRA 

By DIANA MUTHEU
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Natasha Johnson was charged with robbery with violence when she was just 25. She was sentenced to 25 years in prison, the equivalent years to her life, but got out on appeal after only four years.

Life had dealt her a tough hand, but Natasha admits that everything she did as a child and later as a teenager led up to a life in prison.

She was raised by a single mother and never met her father. Unfortunately, her mother passed away when Natasha was in Class Five.

“I managed to continue with my schooling until Class Seven but I eventually dropped out.

 I found no purpose in school life and moved to stay with my aunt in Nairobi. A few years later, I moved to Mombasa because I wanted to run my life.””

In Mombasa, she started selling second-hand clothes. She started indulging in alcohol and soon formed a tight bond with new friends who also loved the bottle. her drinking buddies introduced her to robbery.

"I had sunk into bad company. My aunt wondered where I got so much money which my business could not raise, but had no guts to question me.”

Natasha vividly recalls the circumstances that led to her arrest.

On that night, they had planned to rob a taxi. The robbery was well planned. A gang member called a taxi and instructed him to pick Natasha and one of her friends.

Natasha was in heels and a long, tight dress. Her partner had on an expensive suit and they waited for the taxi from a night club in Bamburi.

“The taxi picked us from the club and we drove away through the interior part of KiembeniBamburi,” she recalls, adding that after driving a kilometre away, they ordered the driver to stop and pick their "friends" who had stopped by the roadside.

He stopped the car, picked the two "friends" and they continued with the journey.

“After reaching our opportune destination, we ordered the driver to stop and hand over the car keys. He was perplexed. We did not give him quality time to recover from the shock.”

An argument ensued and soon, passers by could hear them shouting at each other and came to find out what the ruckus was about. The passers-by later alerted thesungu sungus , a local vigilante group, who swooped to the scene and took Natasha to the police station. Her accomplices ran away but her tight dress and heels hindered fast movement and the police arrested her.

In November 2011, she was arraigned in a Mombasa law court, charged with robbery with violence.

“I was arrested and jailed. The other members of the gang who had escaped were gunned down one by one while I was serving my jail term."

While at Shimo la Tewa maximum prison, she joined the industry sector.  She acquired tailoring and knitting skills, which became crucial to her life after the was released. She also became a Christian while serving time.

 “Life in jail is not easy as many may say or think. There is no freedom and above all you miss your family.”

The four years were no joke for the mother of two. She had gone to jail together with her son who was hardly two years old and her daughter stayed behind with Natasha’s aunt.  

GAVE HER SON AWAY

When her son was three years old, she decided to give him out to a children’s home.

“Living with your child in prison is like torture. The child has multiple needs which you cannot provide while being held behind the bars. A welfare association that visited the prison pleaded with me to allow my son to live in a children’s home and I saw it as a relief.”

After stepping out, she took a bold step to live a positive life. She went back to the house she lived in. Her neighbours had no idea that they had lived next to a thug.

The next day, she visited a newly opened church called Discovery of Jerusalem in Bamburi where she now ministers as pastor, to have silent time with God.

“I decided to change my life. I accepted Christ as my personal savior. When I reached the church, I boldly introduced the myself as an ex-prisoner, the church pastor received me and he has been guiding me to date.”

When she was imprisoned, she had come in contact with a group of ex-prisoners who had formed a self-help group called New Beginning which was started by their colleague.

“I decided to join the group of about 50 members to earn clean money and live a peaceful and happy life. Many ex-prisoners also join the club because of rejection from family and community.”

The 32-year-old said they make shampoos, soaps, conditioners and lotions with the brand Risha.

The self-help organization also sells honey, coconut oil and moringa products. They will start making juice after they purchased a machine to aid them pursue the idea.

“We want to reach all people. I learnt that some people engaged in crime because they lacked the basic needs.” The reformed former gangster says she is taking a single step each time to advance her lifestyle. In her grey and red dress with grey heels as she displayed some of their products during the Mombasa International Show held at Mkomani last week, she had embraced the freedom and was ready to work hard to earn a living.

“I also sell second-hand sheets to boost my income. Everyone should work hard to earn a living.”

And of lessons she learnt in prison, hard work stood out.

"Keep yourself busy and don’t be lazy because an idle mind is a devil’s workshop. Above all, fear God.”

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