English-Video.net comment policy

The comment field is common to all languages

Let's write in your language and use "Google Translate" together

Please refer to informative community guidelines on TED.com

TEDWomen 2017

Teresa Njoroge: What I learned serving time for a crime I didn't commit

Filmed:
1,177,871 views

In 2011, Teresa Njoroge was convicted of a financial crime she didn't commit -- the result of a long string of false accusations, increasing bribe attempts and the corrupt justice system in her home in Kenya. Once incarcerated, she discovered that most of the women and girls locked up with her were also victims of the same broken system, caught in a revolving door of life in and out of prison due to poor education and lack of economic opportunity. Now free and cleared by the courts of appeal, Njoroge shares how she's giving women in prison the skills, tools and support they need to break the cycle of poverty and crime and build a better life.

- Criminal and social justice reform advocate
At Clean Start Kenya, Teresa Njoroge builds bridges connecting the formerly imprisoned to the outside world and vice versa. Full bio

When I heard those bars
00:12
slam hard,
00:16
I knew it was for real.
00:20
I feel confused.
00:23
I feel betrayed.
00:26
I feel overwhelmed.
00:29
I feel silenced.
00:33
What just happened?
00:37
How could they send me here?
00:40
I don't belong here.
00:44
How could they make such a huge mistake
00:47
without any repercussions
whatsoever to their actions?
00:51
I see large groups of women
00:57
in tattered uniforms
01:00
surrounded by huge walls and gates,
01:02
enclosed by iron barbed wires,
01:07
and I get hit by an awful stench,
01:10
and I ask myself,
01:14
how did I move
01:17
from working in the respected
financial banking sector,
01:20
having worked so hard in school,
01:26
to now being locked up
01:30
in the largest correctional facility
01:32
for women in Kenya?
01:35
My first night
01:39
at Langata Women Maximum Security Prison
01:41
was the toughest.
01:45
In January of 2009,
01:48
I was informed that I had handled
a fraudulent transaction unknowingly
01:51
at the bank where I worked.
01:56
I was shocked, scared and terrified.
01:58
I would lose a career
that I loved passionately.
02:03
But that was not the worst.
02:09
It got even worse
than I could have ever imagined.
02:12
I got arrested,
02:17
maliciously charged
02:20
and prosecuted.
02:22
The absurdity of it all
was the arresting officer
02:26
asking me to pay him 10,000 US dollars
02:31
and the case would disappear.
02:36
I refused.
02:39
Two and a half years on,
02:42
in and out of courts,
02:45
fighting to prove my innocence.
02:47
It was all over the media,
02:50
in the newspapers, TV, radio.
02:53
They came to me again.
02:57
This time around, said to me,
03:00
"If you give us 50,000 US dollars,
03:03
the judgement will be in your favor,"
03:09
irrespective of the fact
that there was no evidence whatsoever
03:13
that I had any wrongdoing
03:18
on the charges that I was up against.
03:20
I remember the events
03:25
of my conviction
03:27
six years ago
03:29
as if it were yesterday.
03:32
The cold, hard face of the judge
03:35
as she pronounced my sentence
03:38
on a cold Thursday morning
03:41
for a crime that I hadn't committed.
03:45
I remember holding
03:49
my three-month-old beautiful daughter
03:51
whom I had just named Oma,
03:55
which in my dialect
means "truth and justice,"
03:58
as that was what I had longed so much for
04:02
all this time.
04:07
I dressed her in her
favorite purple dress,
04:09
and here she was, about to accompany me
04:13
to serve this one-year sentence
04:17
behind bars.
04:20
The guards did not seem
sensitive to the trauma
04:24
that this experience was causing me.
04:28
My dignity and humanity disappeared
04:32
with the admission process.
04:37
It involved me being
searched for contrabands,
04:41
changed from my ordinary clothes
04:46
to the prison uniform,
04:50
forced to squat on the ground,
04:51
a posture that I soon came to learn
04:55
would form the routine
04:59
of the thousands of searches,
05:01
number counts,
05:05
that lay ahead of me.
05:06
The women told me,
05:11
"You'll adjust to this place.
05:13
You'll fit right in."
05:16
I was no longer referred to
as Teresa Njoroge.
05:19
The number 415/11 was my new identity,
05:23
and I soon learned that was
the case with the other women
05:28
who we were sharing this space with.
05:31
And adjust I did to life on the inside:
05:36
the prison food,
05:40
the prison language,
05:43
the prison life.
05:45
Prison is certainly no fairytale world.
05:47
What I didn't see come my way
05:54
was the women and children
05:57
whom we served time and shared space with,
06:01
women who had been imprisoned
06:07
for crimes of the system,
06:11
the corruption that requires a fall guy,
06:14
a scapegoat,
06:20
so that the person who is responsible
06:22
could go free,
06:25
a broken system that routinely
vilifies the vulnerable,
06:27
the poorest amongst us,
06:34
people who cannot afford to pay bail
06:36
or bribes.
06:39
And so we moved on.
06:43
As I listened to story after story
06:46
of these close to 700 women
06:49
during that one year in prison,
06:52
I soon realized that crime
06:57
was not what had brought
these women to prison,
07:01
most of them,
07:06
far from it.
07:08
It had started with the education system,
07:11
whose supply and quality
is not equal for all;
07:16
lack of economic opportunities
07:22
that pushes these women
to petty survival crimes;
07:26
the health system,
07:31
social justice system,
07:33
the criminal justice system.
07:35
If any of these women,
07:37
who were mostly from poor backgrounds,
07:40
fall through the cracks
07:43
in the already broken system,
07:46
the bottom of that chasm is a prison,
07:49
period.
07:52
By the time I completed
my one-year sentence
07:56
at Langata Women Maximum Prison,
07:59
I had a burning conviction
08:03
to be part of the transformation
08:06
to resolve the injustices
08:10
that I had witnessed
08:13
of women and girls
08:15
who were caught up in a revolving door
08:16
of a life in and out of prison
08:19
due to poverty.
08:22
After my release,
08:25
I set up Clean Start.
08:27
Clean Start is a social enterprise
08:30
that seeks to give these women and girls
08:33
a second chance.
08:36
What we do is we build bridges for them.
08:39
We go into the prisons, train them,
08:42
give them skills, tools and support
08:45
to enable them to be able
to change their mindsets,
08:48
their behaviors and their attitudes.
08:52
We also build bridges into the prisons
08:55
from the corporate sector --
08:59
individuals, organizations
09:01
that will partner with Clean Start
09:04
to enable us to provide employment,
09:06
places to call home,
09:08
jobs, vocational training,
09:10
for these women, girls,
09:12
boys and men,
09:15
upon transition back into society.
09:16
I never thought
09:20
that one day
09:23
I would be giving stories
09:25
of the injustices that are so common
09:27
within the criminal justice system,
09:30
but here I am.
09:34
Every time I go back to prison,
09:37
I feel a little at home,
09:40
but it is the daunting work
09:43
to achieve the vision
09:48
that keeps me awake at night,
09:50
connecting the miles to Louisiana,
09:54
which is deemed as the incarceration
capital of the world,
09:58
carrying with me stories
10:04
of hundreds of women
10:07
whom I have met within the prisons,
10:09
some of whom are now
embracing their second chances,
10:12
and others who are still
on that bridge of life's journey.
10:17
I embody a line
10:24
from the great Maya Angelou.
10:27
"I come as one,
10:31
but I stand as 10,000."
10:33
(Applause)
10:37
For my story is singular,
10:45
but imagine with me
10:49
the millions of people
10:51
in prisons today,
10:55
yearning for freedom.
10:58
Three years post my conviction
11:03
and two years post my release,
11:07
I got cleared by the courts of appeal
11:10
of any wrongdoing.
11:13
(Applause)
11:15
Around the same time,
11:20
I got blessed with my son,
11:22
whom I named Uhuru,
11:25
which in my dialect means "freedom."
11:27
(Applause)
11:30
Because I had finally gotten the freedom
11:34
that I so longed for.
11:38
I come as one,
11:40
but I stand as 10,000,
11:42
encouraged by the hard-edged hope
11:45
that thousands of us have come together
11:50
to reform and transform
the criminal justice system,
11:53
encouraged that we are doing our jobs
12:00
as we are meant to do them.
12:04
And let us keep doing them
12:07
with no apology.
12:09
Thank you.
12:12
(Applause)
12:13

▲Back to top

About the speaker:

Teresa Njoroge - Criminal and social justice reform advocate
At Clean Start Kenya, Teresa Njoroge builds bridges connecting the formerly imprisoned to the outside world and vice versa.

Why you should listen

Teresa Njoroge is the cofounder and CEO of Clean Start Kenya. She was pursuing her childhood dream, a career in banking, when she was falsely accused of a fraudulent transaction. Sentenced to imprisonment in the High Security Langata Women’s Maximum Prison, Njoroge was forced to bring her three-month-old baby with her.

What began as a loss of career and social standing led to her purpose in life, advocating for Kenyan women, youth and men trapped in a cycle of poverty, survival, petty crimes and life behind bars and equipping them with entrepreneurial skills, jobs and formal education. Later cleared of any wrongdoing, Njoroge is now a beacon of hope and second chances to thousands, with her mission to build up the bottom-of-the-pyramid economy and an inclusive Africa. As she writes: "I am an optimistic, self-driven social entrepreneur with over a decade of progressive experience in economic and social justice work, in my journey from 'I can do it' to 'I did it'!"

More profile about the speaker
Teresa Njoroge | Speaker | TED.com