19-year-old Teacher was checking betting scores on a stolen phone that he had borrowed from one of his friends. While Teacher was learning computer skills in prison, the Lifesong Kenya team set up a meeting with his parent, the police and the owner of the phone.
19-year-old Teacher washes cars, collects garbage and does other odd job in Ruaraka to earn income. He uses most of his income on online betting where he bets on football matches and other sports. Most of the time, he can’t account for his income and expenses.
One day, Teacher and his friends were ‘chilling’ at their popular spot in Ruaraka. Since he didn’t have a smartphone, he borrowed a friend’s phone. After receiving the phone, his friend excused himself saying he was going to get something to eat.
Quiet by nature, Teacher wasn’t actively involved in the arguments. He was concerned about what his betting odds had gained or lost him. He was too engrossed in what he was doing he didn’t notice what was happening around him.
By the time he realized what was happening, it was already too late. His friend whose phone he had was using was in handcuffs while accompanied by three police officers and a man he had seen in the estate. The friends who had been chatting and arguing about the previous night’s football game were nowhere to be seen.
The police did not give Teacher time to explain that he had borrowed the phone from one of his friends. One of the police officers grabbed his right hand and linked it together with his friend’s left hand. Together, they were frog-marched to the Ruaraka Police Station.
Checking Betting Scores on a Stolen Phone
One night, a man who Teacher knows from his neighbourhood was walking alone. It was 4 am and the man was drunk. Approaching from the opposite direction were four young men and one of them was Teddy’s best friend, Daniel.
The four of them were coming from a night vigil that was in honor of a young man who had been killed by an angry mob after he was found breaking into a house in the neighbourhood.
Once the four young men and the man made contact, Daniel ordered him to surrender the money and valuables he was carrying. The man said he didn’t have any money and had been thrown out of the house by his wife. Daniel then ordered the man to take them back to his house.
After they arrived at the house, they forced the man to knock at the door. The wife cracked open the window and saw her husband in the company of Daniel and the other three young men. She immediately knew that her husband was in big trouble. Once again, Daniel ordered the wife to hand over her husband’s phone. In panic, she handed over her phone instead of her husband’s.
The next day, Daniel was browsing on the phone when Teacher met him. Teacher asked to use the phone to check the results of the game that had been played the night before. That same day, the man who had been robbed visited the Ruaraka Police Station to report the incident that had happened. Since he knew Daniel and where Daniel and his friends hangs out, the man led the police to the right spot.
Teacher Joins Our Program and James Stumbles on a Surprise
After getting arrested, Teacher was taken to court where he was charged with robbery with violence. Like most juvenile offenders, Teacher denied the charges and was remanded at YCTC. At the juvenile centre, Teacher met other young men who had committed different offences. A few months later, he changed his name!
Unknown to him, his dad wasn’t planning to visit him in prison or appear in court. Having tried everything to help his son, he finally gave up on him. He had taken Teacher to school, to a local vocational institution and transferred him to his rural village. But still, Teacher wasn’t keen on getting an education or hanging out with friends who were known to be terrorizing people in the community.
When Teacher joined our Restorative Justice Program in 2019, he had already stayed in juvenile prison for nine months. Our team discovered that he wasn’t using his real name and behind the ‘tough guy’ demeanor he needed help. While he was learning computer skills through our program, Teacher mentioned that he needed to get reconciled with his family.
Two of our team members kicked off a mediation process involving his family and the people he had wronged. This process involved visiting and spending time with his family, the police officer who had arrested him and the person he had wronged.
During the first meeting with Teacher’s dad, James stumbled on a sweet surprise!
“Why do you bother with these troublesome boys when fathers like us have given up on them?” Teacher’s dad asked.
“My dad died when I was 13-years-old,” James replied. “I am grateful I had a very loving and hard working mom. But I needed a man, a male role model and a father-figure in my life,” he continued.
“I wanted to become a writer and needed someone who could believe in my dreams and provide the guidance that I desperately needed. Because I focused more on the things that my family lacked and my mom couldn’t provide, I lacked confidence.
“Because I focused on the things that we lacked, my heart got filled up with regret, bitterness and low self-esteem. Fast forward, I was in high school when – through my mom – I met a family she knew in church. This family started providing opportunities for e to earn pocket money from working on their farm.
“In return, the wife would give me sugar and Brut Soap that his son used to send from Nairobi. After I finished high school, I began hanging out more with the retired teacher. This became my turning point. I started learning how to iron shirts, trousers and believing in the dreams that I had. The retired teacher owned a Green Raja Bicycle that I started borrowing and using to cycle to the local market.
During our time together, the retired teacher started sharing valuable lessons that inspired me to reach for my greatness. At one point, he even helped me write a letter to Professor Anyang’ Nyong’o asking for help towards becoming a journalist.
The Sweet Surprise
“You had asked what makes me bother with boys whose father have given up,” James continued. “These are the things that inspired me to start Lifesong Kenya and make a difference in the life of a young man who needs a second chance. That is why I don’t give up on the young men that we meet in prison and Teacher, your son, is not an exception,” James added.
“Where do you come from?” James asked.
“I come from Seme Kadero,” Teacher’s dad replied.
“Did you use to send you dad Brut Soap and even bought him a green bicycle?” James asked.
“Yes, I did!”
“Do you remember James, the young man who used to spend time with your dad?”
“Yes, I do,” he replied. “The last time I heard about him he was in Mombasa,” he added.
“I am James,” James replied.
A few minutes later, Teacher’s dad changed into a new set of clothes and asked to accompany James to prison.
The Mediation and Teacher’s Release from Prison
Our mediation process involving his family and the man he had wronged continued. Our team continued attending Teacher’s court case. With time, the case was dropped and Teacher was free to leave prison. Teacher is a good example of how our restorative process is able to give male youth a second chance in life.
Unlike Teacher, most male youth exiting juvenile prison don’t have a loving home to go back to. Most of them often face stigma, discrimination and retribution. Because of this, many of them end up re-offending, get arrested and go back to prison as hardened criminals. Some of them get killed by angry mobs and seldom make it to their 20’s.
In October this year, we were able to start renting a halfway house in order to provide transitional housing. This will enable Lifesong Kenya to provide a shelter and a safe space for boys who have nowhere else to go.