My name is Joshua, born and raised in Silanga, Kibera slum of Nairobi Kenya. I was a good and active soccer player up to the beginning of year 2000. At the age of 14, and while still in primary school, out of peer pressure, I joined a gang and committed my first crime. I was in grade 7. We waylaid and robbed a man of his personal belongings. Since I was the one who took the man’s expensive phone from his pocket, I was given a bigger share after the phone was sold. From then on I was motivated, I believed that crime paid and provided quick money.
I could not proceed to secondary school after completing primary school level due to lack of school fees, as my family was struggling even to afford a meal a day – school fees were not a priority. I only had two options: play soccer with friends or stay idle. A group of friends and I started roaming the neighborhood robbing and mugging people, this gave us quick and easy money, and we started dressing up in the latest fashions, expensive shoes and clothes.
In the year 2004, we became a big gang of criminals committing various crimes within Kibera and surrounding estates. With each successful criminal act, we become bolder and more daring, bought guns. My colleagues in the gang told me that my skills were extremely sharp. I always escaped unscathed even though a lot of my friends in the gang were either arrested or shot dead. Hence, I felt that I was invincible and untouchable. I never thought I would ever quit, the thought never even crossed my mind, this was a good job. I was living a dream life.
Our lives had changed, we moved out of Kibera to posh and expensive estates. We recruited beautiful young ladies from the slums who had entered into prostitution and gave them ‘simple’ instructions; dress well; identify and seduce men who were potentially rich and with money; accompany them back to their houses or to secluded places and inform our gang. We would then show up and rob the victims, and later on give the girls a percentage of the loot.
Life became ‘sweet’ with beautiful young ladies and more money. Our money was spent on drinking, purchasing drugs and providing for the ladies. We used bhang whenever we went on a ‘mission’. This was to make us cope with panic and give us courage, so we made sure to smoke at least 3 roles of bang.
It was on 28th November 2005 and as usual we were on mission. We went to rob a supermarket in Nairobi. We were very confident we would succeed. In fact we were overconfident – after all we had successfully been on tougher ‘missions’ but had now run out of luck. The police showed up just as we started the mission. We engaged the police in a fierce shoot out but even though none of us were shot, a colleague and I were arrested. All the other gang members escaped.
We were taken to court and charged with robbery, with violence and murder. We were sentenced to death. None of our friends or former colleagues showed up in court. I was very sad and disappointed. We were taken to Kamiti maximum prison and later transferred to Naivasha Maximum Prison.
On my first day in Kamiti Maximum Prison, reality hit me hard. The cells were small rooms each with more than 10 inmates. There was no access to fresh water and well-cooked food. Most of the inmates were sick with communicable diseases. I was very confused, I became friends with an inmate who helped him adapt to prison life. After a few months, my friend was released. In prison there were various trainings offered to inmates such as carpentry, metal works and masonry. However, only prisoners with minor offences were allowed for the trainings. I was a major offender so I wasn’t allowed. I never gave up hope.
After around one year, I had gotten used to prison life – which depends so much on money. Other prisoners and I devised ways on how to smuggle different items into prison for sale to other inmates. With the help of prison warders, we smuggled cell phones, bhang and other items. I found myself with a lot of money while in prison.
Six years later, I was set free after my appeal was accepted due to lack of evidence. He came back to Kibera in January 2012 but I was now a different person. I had learnt my lessons and wanted to be a living testimony and example to youth in the slums – I did not want any of them to follow the path I had followed. I wanted to turn my life around and be a role model.
One thing made me so sad. During the height of my criminal activities, our gang had more than 16 members. Now all of them were dead apart from one who had become insane. I was told that most of them were shot dead by police while others were either burnt or stoned to death by angry villagers. I realized that going to jail had saved my life, I was sure that if I had not been imprisoned I would be dead just like my friends were. I am now a motivational speaker. I talk to young people in Silanga, telling them that crime does not pay. I have also been training and occasionally join other village youth for soccer matches at the Undugu Silanga sports field upgraded by Kilimanjaro Initiative. I am working hard to rebuild my life, six years is a long time but I hope that things will work out for me.
My message to all young people in slums is ‘’appreciate the little that you have and use it to better you life.’’