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Innocent Prisoners Waiting for Justice Find Unprecedented Support from Local Kenyan Churches

Less than 10 miles from Nairobi’s main city square, Kariobangi is one of its most densely-populated slums. More than 150,000 people live in a hodge-podge of high rise apartments and shanties built from corrugated metal and other scrap supplies.

The marks of poverty are obvious: lack of actual roads, poor sanitation systems, communal toilets, high unemployment, and overcrowding, and the poor do not expect police to come running when they are in trouble.

As it does everywhere, life goes on in this crowded corner of unplanned urban sprawl. Children attend school; men and women hawk goods at makeshift market stalls or take the bus into the city to find work.

But below the surface of poverty, there is fear. Crime rates are high. Violence is rampant. And, while there are police officers working to protect the residents of Kariobangi, there are some who abuse their positions.

A few local churches are envisioning a new future for their community, a more just neighborhood that begins with simply loving their neighbor. Several members of St. Michael’s Anglican Church recently finished a study of the Bible’s call to seek justice. They were encouraged by their pastor, Reverend Shem, to consider how they could live out what they studied.

One massive injustice stood out: Scores of innocent men and women are routinely rounded up from Nairobi’s streets and imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. St. Michael’s was eager to find new ways they could love these neighbors.

“The global church has a great deal to learn from this small group of Kariobangi Christians. They are taking very seriously Jesus’ command to think of prisoners as if you yourself were in prison, and they are showing us what it means to really love and serve your neighbor,” says Philip Langford, IJM Vice President of Operations for Africa.

Evan and Kimathi’s Story Illustrates This Injustice

IJM works with Kenyan authorities to secure the release of innocent prisoners—men like Evan and Kimathi. Both young men have been incarcerated for two and a half years, despite a staggering lack of evidence connecting them to any crime.

Evan and Kimathi are charged with stealing a used mobile phone. If convicted of this crime—robbery with violence—they face a sentence of life in prison. Their ties to the stolen phone are clear: Evan had purchased a used phone, then later sold it to his friend Kimathi. Buying recycled or used phones is common in Kenya, but apparently this particular phone once belonged to a man who was tragically robbed and murdered last year.

The police investigating the murder and original phone robbery confronted Evan, who identified another man who had sold him the phone. Despite Evan’s clear lack of connection to the original stolen phone or murder, the police refused to investigate further. They simply arrested Evan and Kimathi.

As long as someone was in prison and facing charges for robbery with violence, their job was done.

What Life is Like Inside Prison, and for Their Families on the Outside

IJM met Evan and Kimathi last year. Since being thrown in prison, life for Evan and Kimathi has been disorienting, monotonous and lonely.

Housed in small cells alongside hardcore criminals, they have struggled to maintain connection to the outside world. Their families can rarely afford the bus fare to visit (about $2.25). Evan’s wife Yolanda* has only been able to visit four times.

Life for the family on the outside has also been incredibly difficult. Yolanda was pregnant when Evan was arrested, and she is now caring for three children under 9 on her own. She has been working odd jobs, like washing neighbors’ laundry, to try to make ends meet. At the end of last year, Yolanda was evicted from her home because she couldn’t make rent. She and her children relied on charity from friends, at one point sleeping in a primary school classroom.

Over the past several months, an IJM lawyer has represented both men at hearings. Frustrating delays continue, but Evan and Kimathi are no longer fighting alone. The IJM team also met with the families and has helped Yolanda start a new business and find a safe rental home.

The Beginning Of A Movement

Even with these most basic needs met, Yolanda lacks a broader support network. She is an orphan herself and does not have immediate family to call. This is where St. Michael’s church is stepping in.

Church members will visit with Yolanda and make sure her children’s school fees are paid and the family has food on the table. They will also collect bus fare so she can visit her husband in prison—a powerful donation for many of the parishioners living in poverty themselves.

St. Michael’s will also visit Evan and Kimathi in prison, talking, listening and praying with the men on a regular basis. Church members will bring soap and shampoo, since the prison system cannot provide basic toiletries.

St. Michael’s will also visit Evan and Kimathi in prison, talking, listening and praying with the men on a regular basis. Church members will bring soap and shampoo, since the prison system cannot provide basic toiletries.

This ministry will be replicated by more local churches that are eager to serve in this hands-on way. IJM will pair a church with an individual in prison, then help the church develop a holistic plan to care for the prisoner and his family on the outside.

“This is more than just another program,” explains Philip Langford, “What we are seeing in Kenya is the beginning of a movement. St. Michael’s and the other churches partnering with our small team in Kenya are dialed into a massive injustice plaguing their nation. If the church presses into this injustice, I believe we will see massive transformation. When Christians have historically banded together to seek justice, great movements of justice have taken off.”

The movement is not just confined to Kenya; around the world, local churches are seeking justice in their communities: from an impoverished church in Cambodia financially supporting sex trafficking survivors to Ugandan churches ensuring widows are protected from property grabbing to churches in India hosting Christmas parties for sex trafficking survivors.

*A pseudonym.

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