At one point, they seemed to have it all. Then their worlds came crumbling down.
Dorcas Akinyi, Jane Muthoni, and Fathiya Jasho. These three women were busy living their lives when the unthinkable happened - they lost their freedom.
The banging of doors in the prison cells became a sound one too familiar. It reminded them of where they were, and it was their source of hope — that one day, the very doors would clank behind them, and they would be free again.
Life behind bars changed their perspectives towards life; they lost their old selves and it was like a journey of self-discovery. When they were finally set free, they came out chockfull of lessons and advice.
A desperate situation, a desperate measure. And Akinyi paid dearly for it.
In 2012, the mother of five needed to pay Sh57,000 for her third born child who was set to join secondary school.
She was required to pay the entire amount at once, money she did not have. “I had purchased his personal needs. I had Sh30,000 in cash thus needed an extra Sh27,000. I went to my immediate boss and requested for an emergency loan. In place of money, he gave me an idea.”
Akinyi was working as a sales executive for an insurance firm and the boss, commending her aggressiveness, suggested that she reaches out to some of her clients and request that they pay their premiums.
“One of them committed to come to the office the following day, but when he showed up he had less amount. He was supposed to take a comprehensive cover of Sh58,000 but he came with Sh28,000. Having promised to clear the balance within a week, we did an in-house arrangement and gave him the cover.”
However, the client did not meet his end of bargain even after they sent debt collectors to his office.
“After he got the cover, he did not respond to my several calls and messages. I risked losing my job and being reported to police by the firm. I also knew that it was just a matter of time before auditors discovered the irregularity.
"Worried, I went back to my boss and he gave me another idea that I considered brilliant — to delete the client's profile and details from the company's system. We did it.”
A few days after committing an offence that she regrets, the client was involved in an accident. He sought compensation from the firm’s headquarters but having in mind that he was no longer in the system, the company declared the cover as an absolute nullity.
“He reported the matter to the police and I was arrested. I fought my case for five years. In April 2017, I was sentenced to 18 years and six months behind bars for several counts of crimes.”
Even before she was sentenced, Akinyi developed a heart problem out of fear.
“I had never been on the wrong side of the law, and I was scared of what awaited me and my children. I am a widow and my nuclear family and in-laws were not supportive — none of them visited me in prison. Then, my last-born daughter was 17 years old and none of my children had a job. They had to hustle hard to provide for themselves.”
After serving for one year and three months, Akinyi shared her story with the public through a local radio station and the mass rallied behind her.
The court fines amounted to Sh800,000 and the public managed to raise Sh310,000. With that, 15 years and three months were taken off her sentence.
She also wrote to the court requesting that her sentence be reviewed. In December last year, she completed her sentence.
“The experience taught me a lot of lessons such that I am now a different person. Presently, I am a pastor and meet my needs through cross-stitching and making liquid soaps.
"Whenever I get the opportunity to share my story with people, especially women, I remind them to avoid getting into activities and deals that would get them into trouble. No matter how desperate you are, it’s still not worth it.”
According to Akinyi, most of the women in prison were there for committing crimes fuelled by anger after snooping on their husband’s phone conversations.
“There were women who would tell me, Dorcas, I don’t know what got into me. I just found myself doing it (committing murder). If you can, please steer clear of your partner’s phone.”
“I am quite an introverted person, who prefers staying by herself. However, in 2012, I was introduced to a particular woman through her relative. Then, I was working in a showroom and she wanted to sell her car. That was the basis of our friendship.
"She was quite an outgoing woman and whenever she went for road trips, she would occasionally ask me to tag along, sometimes even for several nights. I found her fun to be with and quite moneyed because after every trip, she would give me some money for house shopping or to purchase fashionable clothes. I was her puppet.”
For some reasons, her two daughters did not like the relationship and even reported the single mother to her own parents.
“I defended her and the bond that we had formed. Looking back, I wish I listened.”
One day, her friend, who had all sorts of ideas on how to make money, floated to her an idea that would earn them more than Sh1 million.
“She came up with this suggestion that seemed brilliant then. She had an acquaintance, a businessperson she could interest into a partnership with an intention to con him. The duo would supply a particular powder to a city-based company.”
To effect the plan, Muthoni had to role-play as the assistant director of the said company while her friend acted as a supplier in need of a financier.
“The man gave us an appointment and at some point, I made an introduction call to him on behalf of the company (which was non-existent).
"We agreed to meet on a particular day but he postponed the meeting saying he had travelled to another town and intended to stay there for a couple of days. My friend insisted that we would travel to his new location, alleging that if they did not act on time they would lose the tender.”
When they got there, it was quite late and the man suggested a meeting the following day so they could discuss more about the business.
“We booked ourselves a hotel and met him together with his friend the following day, which was on a Sunday. He agreed to collaborate with my friend and since he could not access his bank that day, he requested that we meet the next day.”
However, Jane’s friend had other plans. She was keen on staying close to her ‘soon to be partner’.
“She offered to drop them to their final destination but the man said it was a bad idea since it had rained heavily the previous dayM making the road impassable at night. She persisted while I supported the man’s line of thoughts.”
She says her agitated friend requested her to wait by the roadside kiosks as she drove forth to drop home the potential partner. She never returned. She had been murdered.
“It’s a narration that weighs me down each time I talk about it because she was my friend, and is long gone. Early 2013, police arrested me, accused me of murder, and beat me mercilessly. I remained in custody for a year and was later released on a surety bond. In 2017, the court acquitted me.”
In retrospect, she regrets that she let greed for quick money push her to the con game. She advises women to be very careful about who they consider as friends.
“Regrettably, I did not know much about the woman and her family. I was blinded by the few thousands of shillings she used to give me. Now, I prefer having no close friends, and I like it that way.”
“I consider April as the worst month of the year. It bears sad memories that are quite unsettling. During this period I lost my mother, my job and was put behind bars.”
In 2009, Fathiya worked as a cashier with a local bank. She had earned stature from her peers and led a fulfilling life as a wife, mother and grandmother.
Then, the bank she was working for lost Sh18 million from the strong-room and the employer accused her of being one of the schemers who defrauded the organisation.
“I had never envisaged myself in prison cells. So, when I was asked to go to the police station to help with investigations, I didn't think much of it. When I got there, the script changed and they treated me as one of the suspects. Two of my colleagues were also arrested.
“I was on leave when I received a call on a particular Friday requiring me to go to work the following day. I tried to protest but the caller insisted and even threatened to take matters to the HR if I did not show up.
"When I got to the office, I handled the keys to the bank vault on the authorisation of one of the bosses. I did not know that I was getting myself into trouble.”
Come the following Tuesday, reports emerged that money had been stolen from the strong-room. Eventually, I was taken in as a suspect.
In 2011, after spending several nights in police custody and attending court hearings, Fathiya was sentenced to serve three years in jail for a crime she did not commit, as she maintains.
Having served for two years and a few months, she benefited from former President Mwai Kibaki’s pardon.
“Sometimes, for my peace of mind, I want to believe that my colleagues did not want to frame me. I give life to several excuses because it hurts to imagine that the people you worked with could do that. I had been in the banking industry for 25 years,” she says.
“Life in prison is tough and humiliating. It strips your dignity and in most cases your self-esteem. However, what is even harder is finding a place back in the society.
"Most people do not want to be associated with ex-prisoners. When I got out, I did not know how to be a mother or a wife. Thankfully, my family has stood with me and supported me through it all.”
To make ends meet, Fathiya now runs a small restaurant alongside her husband.
“Now that I cannot get a job in the banking industry, I resolved to put my cooking skills into practice. I prepare different kinds of delicacies and sell to students or by orders. Although I am still rediscovering myself six years down the line, it feels good to be with my family.
"Life in prison taught me that it is actually possible to live without money. You see, we get worried and greedy about having a lot of money but it is not worth the stress. There, even without the money that I felt like I really needed, I still survived.
She also says that it was through the support from her family that she was able to persevere, stressing on the need for families to stick together during good and bad times.
“The prison life also taught me about patience. Those around me say I am more patient and spiritual than I was before I was locked up. Further, it taught me to be firm, courageous and very cautious about the people around me.
She urges the society to be more hospitable to ex-inmates because anybody can find themselves behind bars. A lesson learnt from experience.
“I am part of an organisation, Clean Start, which ensures that women released back to the society from prison continue to be in touch with each other. The organisation also checks on their welfare post-imprisonment.”