Turning Pain into Power: Formerly incarcerated women empower others

The conference stands as a beacon of hope, a platform for other formerly incarcerated women.
In Summary

  • This event aims to bring together a community of women who have turned their pain into power, and into purpose.
  • Next week, all roads will be leading towards Kasarani Sports Stadia, with an atmosphere charged with resilience and hope.

In a testament to resilience, the Beyond The Bars conference celebrates the strength and resilience of women who have transformed their lives after experiencing incarceration.

At the heart of the Conference lies the heart of one woman’s story, Teresa Njoroge, CEO and Founder of Clean Start Africa.

This event aims to bring together a community of women who have turned their pain into power, and into purpose.

Next week, all roads will be leading towards Kasarani Sports Stadia, with an atmosphere charged with resilience and hope.

Here, the stories of perseverance and transformation will take centre stage as formerly incarcerated women, driven by a shared vision of resilience, gather for a groundbreaking conference.

Njoroge, whose journey from incarceration, alongside her one-year-old daughter, became the catalyst for a powerful mission.

The conference, orchestrated by the organization she built upon the bedrock of her own struggle, aims to empower and uplift those who have walked the tumultuous path of imprisonment, transforming pain into power and ultimately into purpose.

The conference stands as a beacon of hope, a platform for other formerly incarcerated women.

“I wanted to turn my pain into power,” she states, reflecting on her transformative journey.

The organization, founded on the foundation of shared experiences, now serves as a lifeline for women navigating the difficult transition from incarceration to reintegration into society.

It provides a safe space for healing, growth, and empowerment, offering support, resources, and mentorship to those who often find themselves marginalized and overlooked, and without a place to call home.

These are some of their stories of pain:

Betty explains her life story of imprisonment:

“I was married with one daughter. My husband stood with me throughout the trial process. So when I went to prison, I knew that I had a family to go back to.

Unfortunately, this was not to be. When I was released, nobody knew that I was out of prison since it was an unforeseen release. I made my way back home only to find another woman living in my house. At first, I thought that I was in the wrong house.

On speaking to my husband, he told me that he had moved on and that our daughter was now living with my sister. This was a great blow.

I cried a lot. I took time off to heal my heart. I didn’t look for a job at first and instead focused on restructuring. I was then living with my sister.”

For Emma, she was arrested and charged with hawking without a license. The married mother of two headed into town hoping to sell a few of her wares to provide for her family. Little did she know that this day wouldn’t turn out as she had hoped.

Caught up in her business, Emma wasn’t aware that her life and that of her family were about to change forever.

The County Council askaris landed in town, and, in the mayhem that ensued, Emma found herself in the back of a county council van headed to Nairobi County Hall. Her phone broke and she would never see her wares again.

“We were taken to City Hall. Nobody explained anything to us and they wouldn’t listen to anything we had to say,” she explained.

They spent the first night in the cell before being taken to court where her charge was read.

“I was sentenced to three months in prison or a cash bail of Sh10,000 ($100) for hawking without a license. You know how expensive that license is.”

From there they went back to the cell for a second night before being taken to Langata Women’s Maximum Prison.

“That first night was tough. The cell was crowded. Five people had to sleep on one mattress.”

“When we got to Langata, we were tasked with cleaning the whole day since some very important guests were due to arrive the following day. Then, they cut off our hair. I had braids,” she says.

She was later introduced to Clean Start after being behind bars for seven months.

The organization was running a program in prison that was called Spear.

“The programme for me was like a wrap-up of all my cumulative life learnings. It was then that I realized I had lost the case because I was unaware of my rights, lacked confidence and was shifting blame to other people.

I understood that I needed to take responsibility for everything that was happening in my life. I recognized that I had a choice and was now in control of my life. I was not only equipped to be accountable for my own actions, but it was a step toward healing.”

She later graduated and applied to review her case. “After presenting my case, there was no objection to my release. I was offered a diversion via Community Service Order. This succeeded and I went back home to my family.”

“The Clean Start team followed me up and encouraged me. They wanted to know each step of my journey after prison and more so because I had benefited from their programme. This gave me even more hope and focus towards what I was praying for daily, a second chance.”

Sara, on the other landed landed a new job at Clean Start.

“I am now working at Clean Start as a Life Coach. I am giving back to society through the application of the very skills they imparted to me whilst in prison. Working here has offered me a platform for gratitude and offers me renewed perspectives, to never take anything in life, for granted.

With an agenda built around the conference theme ‘Rebuild, Reintegrate, Restore’ and diverse speakers such as Renee Ngamau, Kenya’s leading activist, and currently a board member at Amnesty International Patricia Murugami, our board chair, and one of Kenya’s leading women empowerment coaches, Beyond The Bars promised to offer inspiration, hope, and the beginning of the journey towards a better tomorrow, alongside other renowned speakers, including activists, legal experts, and community leaders.”

We are all connected, by a common thread of incarceration. And we are coming together to celebrate our resilience, our success along the way, and most importantly to inspire others, with our journey of Pain to power to purpose.

One of my greatest take away from this conference is the strengthening of this one of its kind Movement dubbed “Sisters on the Outside” made up of the formerly imprisoned women as the social change agents who will continue to engage the power holders and the broader society in addressing the systemic problems and injustices while promoting our vision of decriminalization of poverty.

The hope is that the ripples of this gathering extend outward, influencing societal perceptions and policies.

Each empowered woman who leaves carries within her the potential to challenge stereotypes, advocate for systemic reforms, and inspire a more compassionate and inclusive approach toward rehabilitation and reintegration.

We believe that the conference will become a catalyst for societal introspection, prompting discussions on empathy, justice, and the possibilities of redemption.

In the broader context, Beyond the Bars will remain a testament to the untapped potential within marginalized communities.

It will amplify the call for a society that not only acknowledges past mistakes but embraces the capacity for growth and change in every individual.

It will challenge preconceived notions and underscore the importance of providing support and opportunities for those seeking to rebuild their lives after incarceration.

My prayer, as the conference dissolves into memory, its impact endures as a reminder of the human capacity for resilience and transformation, and stands as a testament to the power of community, advocacy, and the unwavering spirit that propels individuals from the depths of adversity toward a future illuminated by hope and possibility.

Teresa Njoroge is the CEO and founder of Clean Start Africa, and the convenor of the Beyond The Bars Africa Conference.

Email : Teresa@cleanstartafrica.org

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