Teresa Njoroge is a mother, a wife and a co-founder of Clean-start a enterprise that brings individuals, professionals and institutions to engage prisoners and former jailbirds to see them fit back to society. Being jailed for a crime she didn't commit gave birth to this intiative. She shares her story with Robert Amalemba
You were sentenced to 12 months in prison for a crime you allegedly didn’t commit. What was running through your mid when the judge read the sentence?
It was like a nightmare. I sighed deeply. One minute, I was out on bond but the next, I was being convicted to prison for a crime I did not commit. I could not believe that I was going to prison. I had always been a well-behaved, obedient and loyal girl all my life.
What exactly transpired?
It was April 2008. I was undertaking my routine assignment at the bank, serving clients. I used to handle high-end clients. From top businessmen CEOs, politicians and other wealthy individuals who would transact millions of shillings. That day, a client made a transaction of about Sh9.8 million. I later learnt he was a conman. You see, I didn’t think much about it since I knew the bank would carry out its investigations. I had given them my side of my story and I knew I was innocent. But I was in for a rude shock.
What do you mean?
About two months into the investigations, I received a call from a competitor (another international bank) that proposed a job offer. I had noticed the environment (at my place of work) was a bit icy and when the offer came, I didn’t turn it down. I explained everything to my new boss about the pending case and he was okay.
In January 2009, while at my new job, officers from the banking fraud unit came looking for me. They claimed I was behind the fraudulent transaction. I spent that night at a holding cell at the police station and the next morning, I appeared in court to face charges of Sh9.8 million theft. I was so confused. I had no lawyer. The bail was around Sh1million, which I was unable to raise. I was remanded at the Lang’ata Women’s Prison. Luckily, the bail was reduced to Sh500,000.
Five months later, on March 4, 2011, I was found not guilty of all the theft charges. However, the judge found me guilty of the possibility that I may have conspired to commit fraud. She handed me a 12-month jail sentence or a fine of Sh2 million, which I couldn’t raise.
How was life in prison?
The first few weeks were tough. I was depressed and I did a lot of meditating. My baby was only five months. It was a tough choice to either leave her with my hubby or stay with her. I was placed together with fellow mothers with little children.
How was the treatment?
Luckily, in prisons, mothers with babies are given tip-top treatment. You are provided with a mattress, a bedsheets and a blanket. Further, we were exempted from chores until their babies were about six months old. Few months later, I started feeling home. Prison warders noticed my love for kids and I was put in-charge of the nursery. Here, I supervised the mothers and their babies. Due to good behaviour, my sentence was reduced from 12 months to eight months.
Did guys embrace you once you were released?
The society treated me like a criminal. It was another prison but without walls. The stigma was too much. I applied for jobs but I only received regret letters. I had no certificate of good conduct despite my academic CV standing out. Together with a partner, Jess Carruthers, we started the Clean-Start Organisation in 2015 to deal with the stigma that former inmates face.
Any lesson learnt from the experience?
It was actually a blessing. If I were still in banking sector, I could not have impacted to the lives of former inmates who suffer in silence.