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In Kenya, Former Prisoners Seek Work, Help Community

It is not easy to find a job in Kenya. It is even more difficult for those with a criminal past. But some former prisoners are working to prove there is life after crime. They want to show that they can lead productive lives.

The former prisoners live in the Mathare neighborhood of Nairobi. They serve their neighbors by collecting trash and doing other work. As they do so, they are giving back to a community that receives few public services.

The service project was the idea of a group of prisoners, including Festus Indimuli. At the time, he was serving a six year jail sentence for a violent robbery.

The prisoners thought long and hard about the mistakes they had made as young men. They began to understand that they should act differently. So they formed a group and called it the Re4mists Organization Kwetu Crime Si Poa, or Crime is Not Good.

Festus Indimuli says it is important for former prisoners to stay busy.

“When you create all these jobs for these guys, nobody actually will think of crime again, because he has something in his pocket, and he has somewhere that he’s staying all the day from the morning to the evening. But you see when he doesn’t do anything, just sitting like this, he engages his mind to the crime also. So that’s how we intend to stop the crime in the area.”

The group was formed a year ago. It now has more than 200 members. They have earned a small amount of money through their work. The members hope to expand the kind of services they provide, including security.

They say many people in the community support the group’s goals. But others have yet to form an opinion of the former prisoners.

“We hope that from where they have been, they have reformed -- that is what we hope.”

Some former prisoners say their friends and families abandoned them when they went to prison. The organization serves as a kind of support group for those who feel they lost contact with society.

Moses Bayon is a Re4mist member. He says he is ready to lead a better life.

“Like myself, I was there for six years, I spent time there. And it was no good. So I understand I wasted most of my time there. I would have made something outside here, you see? But after that I learned something, and I knew crime is not good.”

Kenya often trains prisoners in such skills as plumbing, electrical work and carpentry. The chairs and other furniture in the country’s parliament were made in prison.

But even when the prisoners have job training, it is almost impossible for them to get a job. Festus Indimuli says that is because former prisoners must show documentation of their work.

“They cannot use that certificate or that grade they got from prison, because when he goes to the company somewhere and show the grade, it is also being written there: ‘Kamiti Maximum Prison.’”

The Re4mists say they will keep trying to earn money by doing small jobs and helping the community. They want to prove that everyone deserves a second chance.

I’m Anne Ball.

VOA East Africa Correspondent Gabe Joselow reported this story from Nairobi. Christopher Cruise wrote it for VOA Learning English. George Grow edited the story.


Words in This Story

trash n. things that are no longer useful or wanted and that have been thrown away

in his pocket idiom. money

engages his mind idiom. engaging or exciting and holding the attention or curiosity; arousing a feeling of interest

intend v. to plan or want to do (something); to have (something) in your mind as a purpose or goal

abandon(ed) v. to stop supporting or helping (someone or something)

plumbing n. the work of a plumber; the job of installing and repairing sinks, toilets and water pipes

carpentry n. the skill or work of making or fixing wooden objects or wooden parts of buildings; the skill of a carpenter or the work done by a carpenter

furniture n. chairs, tables or beds that are used to make a room ready for use

What do you think about the efforts of these former prisoners? Are former prisoners in your country able to get a job? Do you believe former prisoners should be given a second chance? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the comments section.

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