This happened in 2013 while I was doing my maiden home and family tracing. The boy whose mom I was tracing had not answered her phone< Therefore, I asked her son to draw a map for me so I could trace his mom.
Because he couldn’t write his own name or draw a map, he gave me instructions on how to find his mom. I bought a packet of sugar, milk and bread and took 2 matatus – the first from Ayany to town then town to Red Soil.
As I sat inside the second matatu, I thought about the boys I was meeting in prison. The fact that 35% of them did not how to write or read unsettled me. After dropping out of primary school in preteen, they were finding adulthood a hard nut to crack.
Some had committed crimes while others were in prison due to family misunderstandings. A majority were a result of societal negligence. Most lacked positive male role models to provide guidance.
A majority of the phone calls I was making were to single mothers, widows and grandmothers. Most of these women did not know where there sons were. And by the time I was calling, they had already given up on their sons thinking they were dead.
How Can We Clap and Dance in Joy When Our Hands and Feet Have Been Stepped On
I remember one mother who thought her son had been killed by mob justice.
“I know my son isn’t a good boy,” the mother said. “I’ve gone to the school where he was studying and even the city mortuary. No one has information about my son.”
“He’s alive and wants you to visit him in prison,” I said.
“I don’t even know where the prison is,” she sobbed over the phone. “No bus fare to visit,” she continued, “can you take me there?”
“Yes, I will!”
These issues weighed heavily on me. With time, the bright smile that I had growing up with begun fading. I would go to church on Saturday and Sunday for ministry and struggle to clap and dance in joy. This got worse when I quit my job to focus on working in juvenile prison.
People in our church called it a ‘ministry’ while I was convinced I was doing what I needed a male adult to do for me when I was still a young boy and a young adult. The going was tough for me. I couldn’t afford my basic needs and had to live for friends. I wasn’t to support my mom and couldn’t tell her that I was working in prison for free.
But somehow, God pulled me through.
Arriving at Red Soil
I had been instructed to look for a woman who sells ‘chipo mwitu’ near a pub and ask for Mama Chege. I made sure the woman I was talking to knew Mama Chege and where her house was.
When she asked whether I was looking for the woman whose son is in prison, I knew it was the right Mama Chege.
The woman called a small child was playing in the dirt while mucus from her nose ran down her face. Because they were speaking in Kikuyu, I couldn’t fully understand what she was saying. After the small child had gone, the woman asked me to wait.
As I looked at the sizzling potato chips frying in the hot oil, I swallowed my hunger and fought the temptation to indulge myself. I knew that parting with 10 shillings would seriously damage my budget and I didn’t want to call any of my friends and ask for lunch money.
Those days, I would ‘ambush’ a friend and call them asking for money for bus fare to and from prison, money for food or rent money. Most of the people I was calling were Facebook friends who I had not met face to face.
Why boys in prison cannot clap and dance in joy
Later on, the girl who had been sent came back with an older girl who was about 13 years. The woman selling ‘chipo mwitu’ engaged the 13 year-old in a brief conversation after which she left, only to come for me later.
When I arrived at my destination I discovered that the mother to our boy was sick and lying in bed. Green house flies buzzed all around her. Rising from the sofa set she was lying on was an effort in itself. Pus oozed from her swollen right foot.
She shared stories of her struggles with her children and about the husband who had abandoned her when her foot begun swelling. I told her about our work in prison, how her son was fairing in prison and his urgent need to be visited by his family. I asked if she knew where the father was.
At that moment, I realized why most boys in juvenile prison cannot clap and dance in joy. I discovered the reasons behind some of them wearing long faces. It all made perfect sense now. These bunch of boys were thirsting for someone to believe in them.
My visit to the mother was merely a drop in the ocean. As I sat inside the Number 32 KBS bus back to Ayany from town, my mind wandered back to my mom. I knew that a day would come when I would be able to give my mom her own grain of happiness. It was time for me to keep learning.