My downfall from being a university lecturer to a drug trafficker was paved with love and betrayal. Be careful who you marry.
NAIROBI, Kenya — I grew up as the only child in a middle-class Kenyan family. My parents treated me like a Disney princess, never lacking anything.
I became a lecturer at Kenya Polytechnic and my husband was a doctor. Though he was not my parent’s choice for me, we were blessed with two young children.
Then in 2002, I was sentenced to 11 years in prison for drug trafficking.
Today, I talk to women about the dangers of running for easy money when you are desperate.
When the time came for me to get married, I had two suitors. Though my parents preferred one of them, I chose the other. I was blinded by love.
At first, things were good but soon, my loving, caring husband’s character changed. I found out he was having extramarital affairs. I was shocked to learn he had two children I knew nothing about.
When I questioned him, he became emotionally abusive, treating me and my children viciously. I had just lost my father and I fell into a depression. I suffered in silence.
The sorrow I was carrying made it difficult to go to work and with no one to talk to, I confided in a woman I knew. She made me an offer.
She said she would introduce me to a business where I could earn good money so I could move out of my husband’s house, give my children the good life, and prove I was capable of raising my children alone.
I was determined to maintain the same lifestyle so no one, including my sick mother, would notice I was suffering.
My friend introduced me to the gemstone trade. A few days later, I was told to get ready to go to India. I took a few days off work, got my passport ready, and lied to my husband and mother, saying I was traveling to the countryside for three days.
In my mind, after the trip, I would have enough money to move out of my husband’s house, rent a new home, care for my children, and pay for my mother’s specialized medical treatments.
Everything was set.
In India, three days became three months. I was locked in a house and my passport was taken. I had no way to communicate back home. My mother looked for me everywhere, including mortuaries, thinking I must have died.
One of the people I encountered in India asked me if I knew what I had come to do. I told her, to transport gemstones. She looked at me in disbelief and whispered, “You came for drugs.”
I remember feeling shocked and scared. I didn’t know anything about drugs. Horrified, I wondered how I could unchain myself from this place, but they cautioned me. The woman who sent me to India was lethal. I had to finish what I started.
After several months, the time came for me to return home from India with the drugs. I was so tense; I knew nothing about drug trafficking. The fear overwhelmed me, and I forgot one bag at the airport in India. My full name was on the tag.
When the bag was found, the police organized my arrest. Immediately after landing at the airport in Kenya, the police came onto the plane and took me to a cell in the airport. I was interrogated for hours.
The police said if I told the truth, I would not be arrested, so I told them everything. I wrote it all down on paper. In reality, I was sending myself to prison. The police told my mother about my arrest, and it broke her heart. She had raised me well.
On December 28, 2001, I was charged with trafficking narcotics and using a forged passport. I was later remanded to Kenya Lang’ata Women’s Prison. Several months later, l was sentenced to 11 years in prison. My life turned upside down.
For the first four years in prison, I never saw my children or my mother. No one was allowed to visit. Eventually, they were allowed to come, but by then, I could not recognize my own children. They had grown and changed so much.
I suffered a lot in prison. You are beaten, it is dirty, the food is terrible, and sleep is disrupted as you are bitten by big lice with tails.
My mother never left my side. Every time she could, she visited me. She never rested, always caring for my children, and giving me support.
Eventually, the prison gave me the mandate to take charge of over 220 inmates who were enrolled in courses like dressmaking, crocheting, entrepreneurship, community service, HIV peer education, farming, and courses about changing one’s attitude. Through my efforts, many inmates acquired skills to earn a living after serving their terms.
Then, something incredible happened.
The woman who had tricked me into drug trafficking was arrested and brought to the same prison. I was a trustee, a prisoner in charge of prisoners, and she was placed under me.
Her arrest was connected to a case in America and a few months later, I was called to testify against her. I was the first prisoner to travel to America as a state’s witness. Along with other witnesses, our testimonies sent her to jail in the United States for 24 years.
That was the beginning of my freedom. The American government lobbied for my release and their efforts were rewarded in April 2008. Two other inmates and I received a presidential review of our sentences. I was set free.
I served seven years in prison for being found with 150 grams of heroin.
After prison, I moved to Italy. It is my belief that the woman who I testified against, set a trap for me. One day, strangers approached me and forced me to swallow drug pellets. They left me laying there and placed narcotics beside me. I was arrested in Rome, unconscious on the street.
An investigation proved my innocence, and I was set free. I learned to be cautious; that some people are not good.
Today, I spend most of my time talking about the dangers of easy money. I have experienced life in prison and hope to prevent others from being trapped in heinous activities. I tell people to work hard for clean money, even if the amount is small. Clean money is good money; easy money will cost you greatly.
My book The Deadly Money Maker tells about the ways in which my choices messed up my life; it details life in jail and my decision never to return to drug dealing, no matter how hard life becomes. Judith Grace Akinyi
You see, we are all travelers on this earth, with different experiences – some good, some bad. We have all made mistakes, but it is who we become after the mistakes that matters.
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