For four years, Rahab Nyawira, 35, was a member of a criminal gang.
She was a notorious carjacker and a wanted person. However, she was crafty enough to escape police arrest for years.
Today, she is reformed and helps inmates find justice. She talks to Lilys Njeru about her life in crime, behind bars and her journey to transformation.
“I was 24 years old in 2008 when I got introduced to crime by one of my childhood friends. I bumped into him at a time I was badly off financially.
I was having a tough time trying to put my life together (after separating with my husband) and meet my expenses.
On the other hand, he seemed to have his bills in check: led a flashy lifestyle and even had enough money to splurge.
For many days, I wondered the source of his money because his only business was a butchery. When I gathered the courage to ask, he was willing to share and even help me.
I remember him telling me that if I wanted, I could earn just as much. I only needed to be courageous, a fast thinker and aggressive. I was ready.
After a few days, he called me and requested that I meet him in a particular town.
He said that I could tag along my then-boyfriend, who was a second year student at the University of Nairobi. He was a bright young man, and my friend considered him resourceful of ideas.
My initiation to the gang was an assignment to withdraw money from different bank accounts.
When we met him, he handed me tens of ATM cards and a slip of paper with PIN numbers written down. We managed to withdraw about Sh800,000 and I got a share of Sh100,000.
I was elated. That is the first time I was earning that much and considering how little time and effort I had put in, it became a motivator. I became the only female in a gang of five.
My friend taught me how to handle guns and shoot. Back at home, my family did not know what I had got myself into.
Actually, my parents did not know where I lived and my siblings used to make sporadic visits.
I was brought up in a Christian family and the fact that I frequently went to church on Sundays was a subtle message that I was still upright.
Before our first carjacking mission, he took me through the rules of the gang.
First, for our safety, I had to detach myself from my neighbours and friends to prevent them from coming to my house without advance notice.
Second, I was warned that should I get myself into trouble, I should not mention any other gangster.
In a just a few months, my life changed. I had a lot of money at hand and I could afford to spend up to Sh100,000 on a single night.
It was risky yet enticing and spellbinding. But, I lived in constant fear because we were under the police list of wanted criminals. We had robbed so many people of their cars that we had lost count. And we did not just carjack. Sometimes we would get hired by individuals to rob their bosses or places of work.
In my mind, I would invest part of the money, save and buy household stuff. It was a dream.
Besides a small parcel of land that I bought and later sold while in prison, I had nothing else under my name.
I would spend my money carelessly knowing that I would get more when we execute the next mission.
Since 2008 to 2011, the ‘business’ was good, but towards the start of 2012 it became very dangerous to operate. It felt like everybody knew about us.
I was afraid to hire a taxi, board a matatu or engage a stranger. Also, I did not have money now that we would stay long before going out for robbery.
One evening, we were lazying at home with my ring when my boyfriend and childhood friend went out to get more drinks.
After a while, I heard gunshots ripple in the air. I came to learn later that they had engaged in a fight with other patrons.
My friend shot in the air and escaped. My boyfriend was arrested on the scene. We had to escape from the rented apartment and would regularly change my sim card to avoid getting traced.
But I felt guilty since I had introduced him to crime and I knew how badly he wanted to pursue education.
As such, I would find myself constantly trying his mobile number.
One day, in 2012, the call went through and he lied that he been released out of prison and wanted to meet us. Truth is, he had been used by police officers to lure us into their hands.
When we went out to meet him, we were all arrested and taken to court. I was remanded at Lang'ata Women Maximum Prison, where I spent four years.
I did not change. There, I traded contraband bhang and operated a phone leasing business. I even had employees.
Interestingly, I still participated in Mass, a Catholic religious service.
After a number of appearances in court, my cases were consolidated and some of the charges dropped.
I spent two years in Lang'ata women’s prison. In the first few months, I was under [a] special watch unit.
If you ask me, it took going to the prison to ‘find’ myself. It was while there that African Prisons Project imparted me with knowledge and skills about the law.
I became so good at it that I ended up dropping my lawyer and representing myself in court. I also guided other inmates to argue their cases.
One time, Catholic Church had a 30-day retreat, and one of the leaders insisted that they wanted me involved. I was unenthusiastic about it, but I still went.
Even before the training ended, I was ready for change. I participated in several trainings under Africa Prisons Project, a charity organisation that works with the goal of bringing hope and dignity to inmates.
After my release in 2015, the organisation gave me a job. I now work as a legal adviser and help in inmates file-tracing.
I do not earn much, but I have learnt to be contented with whatever I make and not compare myself with other people.
Now, I am at peace with myself and I feel that my life has meaning. I tell people that it is not enough to fear crime, hate it.”