By Judy Makori; Senior Writer MOHI on Jan 3, 2020 9:30:00 AM
My name is Jesse Mwangi Mureithi and I was born 18 years ago as the first born child in a family of two boys. I was raised in Nairobi’s Kiamaiko area by my two parents. My father died in 2009 of Tuberculosis related complications.
The earliest recollection of my childhood is a happy one. Ours was a Christian home and we lived by the values of our faith. My father was a pastor and my mother was, and has always been, a very prayerful woman. We were a stable family and were okay financially because my father also had a regular job. We could afford the basics and never once went to bed hungry.
This lifestyle came to an abrupt end once my father became ill. All of a sudden, we had to rely on the little my mother was making as a casual labourer. It was barely enough because this was also the same amount that would buy medicine for my father.
Life became really hard for us and I started missing out on school due to fees. I was chased from one school to the next and went through six schools within a very short time.
When my father eventually died, I found I did not have a mentor or anyone to talk to. I was not able to talk to my mother because she already looked so overwhelmed by everything that had happened.
I assumed the role of the man of the house so I could take care of my mother and younger brother. For a whole year, I did not go to school. I looked for all types of menial jobs that would enable me to help my mother put food on the table.
My mother worked very hard to ensure she found schools for me but I kept being chased away due to lack of school fees. I had been kicked out of at least six schools before we got to learn about the Missions of Hope International (MOHI) center at Kiamaiko.
My mother approached MOHI and share with them her plight. They graciously accepted to take me in and I joined the school in 2011. I was old enough to join grade four but my education had been so disrupted that when I did the interview, it was recommended that I join grade one.
It was really difficult for me being in class with such small children. I stood out in stature and constantly felt as the odd one out. However, I persevered because MOHI understood my family’s situation and I was never thrown out of class for lack of school fees.
Things came to a head when I got to grade five. My peers at home had now joined high school and they would make fun of me that I was still a small boy in primary school.
When the teasing became too much, I decided to drop out of school and because I knew my mother would not stand for it, I also ran away from home and went to live in the streets.
I went to the slaughterhouse at Kiamaiko where I offered my services as a porter. I would carry meat for people and they in return would give me a few coins which I would use to buy food. With food in my stomach, I cared for nothing else and would even go a month without ever taking a bath.
During this time, my mother and teachers from MOHI were searching for me day and night. I would hide from them each time I saw them but one day I came face-to-face with my headteacher. He convinced me to give up my lifestyle, to go back home and return to school. He assured me that I would be welcomed back. I agreed.
However, the lure and the freedom of street life was too much for me and I soon returned to the streets. This time round my mother decided to involve the police in searching for me. I ended up being arrested and when the cops asked me why I was not in school, I lied that I did not have a school bag and school shoes.
The policemen bought me these items and told me I no longer had a reason to be out of school. They gave me a warning that if they found me in the streets again or if my mother went to complain about me again, the consequences would be very dire.
I reluctantly went back to school but I was an entirely different student from the one I was before. I insisted on joining my classmates who were now in grade six and it was a struggle to catch up. I was a rude boy and very uncooperative in class. My intent was to be such a trouble maker such that I would end up expelled. It did not work.
It seemed the more obnoxious I became, the harder the teachers worked to reach out to me. I was disciplined each time I misbehaved but they tried really hard to keep me in school.
In 2017, I joined grade seven. I was still restless and out of control. I joined the wrong peer group and started smoking bhang. To keep this nasty habit away from my mother, I would smoke bhang on my way to school. I soon found weed was not enough and I was eventually introduced to the world of hard drugs. I became hooked very fast.
I was already doing really badly academically but I dared not drop out of school. I tried to find a way to finance my newly acquired habit, while still in school, but I could not find a way out. The answer came to me on the night of December 23rd.
A life of crime
That day, I saw a well-off looking lady carrying her handbag. Up to this point, it had never occurred to me that I could steal but I was desperate for some quick cash. I snatched her bag and ran off into the night before she could raise an alarm.
When I opened the bag, it had about 300 USD and two expensive cell phones. I could not believe my luck. I decided not to go home because I was afraid that mum would take one look at me and know what I had done. I instead went to a friend’s house where I spent the night.
In the morning, I gave my friend something small for his hospitality and I then went on a shopping spree. I bought clothes and shoes for myself and my younger brother. I just wanted to look good. A day or two later, the money was finished and I decided to steal again.
That is how I was inducted into becoming a thug.
I would snatch bags and phones from people and would mercilessly beat anyone who resisted me. I would leave home at 5am, ostensibly to go for a morning jog, but really it was to target those on their way to work at that hour. By the time the sun was up, I was done with my day’s collection and would then utilise the remaining hours to spend the cash.
I went into drugs full-throttle, I would spend carelessly and when mum would ask me where I was getting this cash, I would lie that I had gotten a part time job. I ended up being arrested at least 12 times due to drug-related fights and it was no longer possible to keep the truth of who I was from my mother.
Even before she could recover from the shock of learning that her son was using drugs, neighbours came to tell her that I was also a thief. I denied these allegations completely.
When January of 2018, rolled by I was not looking forward to going back to school and leave my lucrative business.
On the morning of January 7th, I woke up as usual and as I prepared to head out, a voice warned me not to leave the house. That morning, the roads were deserted and I did not get anything. As I made my way back home, I met with a woman who was carrying a small child and she had a purse.
The area where I saw her wasn’t a place I would normally even dare snatch anything because it was crowded, but I was desperate. Despite my better judgement, I snatched the lady’s purse and took off running. She raised an alarm and attracted a mob who started chasing after me.
I got onto the main highway, and into oncoming traffic, thinking this would deter them from following me but they did not give up the chase. When I saw that I could not shake them off, I dropped the purse but they did not stop coming after me.
Suddenly, from the corner of my eye, I saw a vehicle come to a screeching halt and a man jump out of it. He shot into the air and the crowd stopped chasing me but I did not stop. I heard him order me to stop but I kept going. Next thing I knew there were bullets hitting the ground very near my feet and I immediately stopped, dropped to my knees and lifted my hands in surrender.
By this time, the mob had grown exponentially and I could hear them baying for my blood. I heard the man say that he would search me and if I was found with a weapon he would hand me over to them. I breathed a sigh of relief because I did not have anything on me. When he finished his search, the man told the mob that I was just a misguided youth who needed help and I should not be killed.
He ordered them to disperse and when they did, he retained one security guard who had been among the crowd. He asked this man to keep an eye on me as he went to pick up the spent cartridges. No sooner had my benefactor turned his back than the guard set upon me. He hit me on the head and I started bleeding - then out of nowhere, a motorcycle rider came at me and passed over my feet. I cried out in pain.
The man who had rescued me immediately came back, bundled me into his car and took me to the nearest police station. They interrogated me then called my mother. A few minutes later, the lady I had tried to rob came to the police station, together with her husband, and she launched a formal complaint against me.
When my mother finally came to the police station, she could only stare at me in utter shock. She tried to talk to the complainant to withdraw her charges but I was rude and unrepentant. My attitude grated on the lady’s nerves and she became adamant that she wanted me charged.
We remained at a stalemate for a long time before my mother’s pleas were finally heard. Her husband convinced her to drop the charges against me saying he did not want his family to be responsible for whatever negative outcome I would face in life. The police also said they would release me into my mother’s custody. They told me that they were giving me a second chance.
Sadly, the magnitude of what I had just been spared did not register in my mind at all. I thought it was pure luck and that I had no reason at all to change my ways. If anything, I convinced myself that I would have fared better if I’d had a gun with me.
I talked to a fellow thug friend and we agreed to put our resources together and buy a gun. However, before the deal went through, we started to disagree and I started wondering about the wisdom of pairing up with this person.
He however, would not let me out of the arrangement. He accused me of intending to report him to the authorities and said he would not go down alone. I felt stranded and harrassed. I continued to put on a brave face but I wanted out of the deal badly.
A moment of reckoning
One morning, I woke up and found that my friend had committed a heinous crime. In a robbery gone wrong, he had killed an elderly lady then taken a young woman as a hostage. He was eventually flushed out by the police, barely alive, and ended up being jailed for life.
With my friend behind bars, the pressure to acquire a gun was off but his actions left a mark on me. For the first time in my life, I looked critically at the direction my life was taking and I felt afraid.
I questioned what having a gun would mean and was shaken to realise that I too could murder someone just as my friend had done.
I thought about my parents and how they raised us. The values they had instilled in us and how far I had turned from being the person I should have been. I felt ashamed at the pain I had caused my mother and knew if my father were still alive, he too would have been disappointed in me.
I already knew that within me I was completely empty. I felt guilty and frustrated. I knew I was using drugs to try and cover up these feelings and I would get into fights to try and make myself feel better. On the outside, it looked like I had it all together with my flashy clothes and big talk but it was all a lie. It was not worth it.
I thought about my studies and how lightly I had taken my education. I had not been in school since the first term began. This was now in March and this was my grade eight year - a crucial year for me because it would determine whether or not I went to high school. I thought of my small brother and the kind of role model I had been to him and I felt even more shame.
I knew I had to change and I knew only God would help me. I prayed the sinner's prayer and rededicated my life to Christ. I went back to school and told my teachers I was ready to continue with my studies. They welcomed me back unreservedly. I was very far behind in my studies but I was determined to catch up and be ready for the primary school exit exams due for the end of the year.
It was not easy to let go of my drug habit. Bhang was especially difficult to overcome but I turned to God for help. I have always loved to sing and the Lord started putting songs in my spirit. As I focused on growing this skill, I found that my desire to smoke bhang was reducing until it was no longer there. God set me free.
At the end of the year, I sat for my primary school exit exam and I did well enough to get into high school. With support from MOHI, my mother was able to get a school for me and I was among the students who reported to grade nine in January 2019.
At the new school, I once again found that I stood out because of the obvious age difference and my physical stature. But, this time I decided to lay low, be humble and avoid confrontation with my teachers and peers.
A changed person
I have now made it my mission to become a shepherd; guiding and directly others towards right living.
I talk to the younger boys, that I am in school with, telling them that crime does not pay. I share my story with those who are willing to listen and also use my music to communicate and pass on this message to a wider audience.
I now watch over my younger brother who is a grade seven student also at the Kiamaiko center to warn him about the dangers of keeping the wrong company. I tell him to learn from my mistakes and ensure I am there to guide him towards making the right choices.
I look forward to joining grade 10 this year. I am trusting God to help me focus on my studies so that I can secure my future. My dream is to nurture my musical talent and to also become a motivational speaker. Towards this end, I keep reminding myself that God created me with a special purpose and that He has called me His son.
I already have very many songs which God has enabled me to write and I am trusting Him to make a way so that I can do a studio recording as soon as possible. My intention is not to make a name for myself. I do not want the fame. I want to use my music to change lives and to draw others like me near to God.
I know with Christ Jesus, all things are possible.
We thank God for your continued support that makes it possible for us to reach out to young people like Jesse offering them quality education and hope for a better tomorrow.
Do keep partnering with us in the work God has called us to do among children and families living in disadvantaged communities to transform their lives through hope in Christ.