NAIROBI, KENYA – After a year and a half, Maria has finally been released from prison. Thrown in jail after being accused of a crime she never committed, Maria can at last return home to her three children.
Eighteen months ago, as Maria was shopping for groceries with her friend, they heard a man shouting for help as he was attacked and robbed. When police showed up to the crime scene, the man said he had been robbed by two young men. But the police arrested Maria. She and the middle-aged gentleman she was with were sent to prison for the robbery. It was unthinkable.
Maria’s protests fell on deaf ears. She couldn’t afford a lawyer to represent her. She couldn’t afford the hefty bail that would secure her release while she waited to clear her name from the bogus charges. So, the single mother waited in jail.
The trial began, but witnesses never showed up to testify—each no-show meant a re-scheduled court date. Maria was shuffled back and forth to 11 hearings. She remembers how she would shake anytime she tried to speak or was asked a question, completely innocent yet unable to defend herself. And then she would have to go back to the prison, far away from her children. All the while, it was painfully clear that she was innocent.
Maria’s sister was left to care for her children, scraping together what she could to provide for their needs and care for them. In jail, Maria was losing confidence she would ever be free.
“My joy is in my freedom,” Maria told IJM. “I pray God gives you opportunities to free other innocent people like me.”
In May 2012, IJM met Maria at a crucial time. “She had lost hope,” says IJM Kenya legal intern Elizabeth Ongera, “and thought she would rot in jail.” But at her next hearing, Maria was no longer alone. IJM presented a clear case: there was no evidence to keep Maria in prison. Because she had an advocate, Maria’s case finally moved. Within three months, the court declared Maria innocent. She shouted and cheered joyfully in the courtroom. After 18 months behind bars, Maria was finally free.
“My joy is in my freedom,” Maria told IJM Kenya staff a few weeks after she had returned home. “I pray God gives you opportunities to free other innocent people like me.” dvocate, Maria's case finally moved. Within three months, the court declared Maria innocent. She shouted and cheered joyfully in the courtroom. After 18 months behind bars, Maria was finally free.