I witnessed a thick drop of tear slide from the corner of his eyes, I could tell that he was embarrassed because as soon as his eyes met mine he bowed his head in shame and glued it to the steel table where his cuffed wrist rested.
“Mr John, internet fraud is a big crime! It is worse than physical theft. And you’ve been doing this for 5 years, I’m afraid you might be looking at 10 years imprisonment.” said my partner and John nodded. I know you are wondering why I am on first name bases with a criminal, but that is the kind of relationship I built with him when I got to know him.
John, not his real name but its all you need to know, is a good man. A good man who made a mistake; an addictive mistake.
There is a stigma when it comes to crime and those who commits them. Everyone automatically thinks that all criminals are bad people. I don’t blame that ideology. I mean, we learn that in books, movies and in our environment while growing up. 15 years in the job has taught me otherwise, I learned that many of them have good hearts but unfortunately find themselves in bad conditions which makes them do bad things.
John is one of them. Intact John’s story is that that many should learn from. He has indeed changed my way of thought. Let me tell you a little bit of it…
John, age 22, has been in the internet fraud business (locally known as ‘Yahoo Yahoo’) for over 5 years. If you do the math he started at the age of 17 right after finishing high school, at a local government owned school. A school where Swahili was spoken in English class. That was his last bus stop, had no dreams of going to school on the tertiary level simply because there was no money to.
John was the first of 5 children and he was the only boy. His father who was a carpenter had developed a limiting disease; arthritis, which stopped his productivity and forced him to close down his workshop. His mother, who now had to take care of the entire home, was barely educated. She owned a small kiosk right outside their house and sometimes hawked on days where she had little to no customers. The highest she would make in a day was 1,300ksh and that was not enough.
John had to act, and act fast. What could a 17 year old boy with that big problem do? At that point, he was desperate he needed something quick and something big. Then he remembered a group of older guys that hung out at the local bar down the road, the big cars they drove, the girls they had and the power they showed. He didn’t mind working for them. He planned to approach them and beg to be their house boy, to help in washing their cars and cleaning their house.
On the day that he approached them, he wore his finest shirt, one which his mom had made for him for Christmas, he walked up to the guys and asked them to help him out. They laughed in his face and asked him how desperate he was. He was forced to tell them how bad the condition was at home and how he was in need. They gave him a job of being their house boy and they paid him 5,000ksh weekly.
Greed and hunger made him crave for more. We are humans and it’s part of how we function. We are never satisfied with what we have. And the fact that he was surrounded by guys who eat 1 meal that was equivalent to his weekly salary made it worse. So he decided to join them.
When John narrated his story he couldn’t help but pause to let out a smirk. It was obvious that he was ashamed of himself.
John joined the ‘business’ to support his family; He educated his 4 sisters, two of them now in high school and the other two in university. He medicated his father, who is currently in India under doctor-watch. And built a supermarket for his mother.
John is a criminal because of the wrong choices he made. But is he a bad person?
Often people find themselves with what they think of as ‘no choice’ but that’s because it is the only choice society has given to them. We as society are the cause of that. We need to motivate, preach the words of goodness, educate and we need to do it fast.
There were many times John planned to quit but because of the thoughts of society rejecting him kept him locked up in that lifestyle. He tried joining church groups, but he felt not welcomed by the stares he received as he sat before the alter. He tried enrolling in several schools, but he was laughed at because of his poor English compositions therefore he stuck with his own crowd and did what he could do best and didn’t feel judged.
We need to step back and think about other peoples life choices and show empathy instead of being judgmental.
When I asked John “so what next after this?” He told me, “To be honest, I don’t know, It depends on how things are when I get out, right now I’m glad my family is okay, I can rest for a bit.”
We need to come to the reality that there are different kinds of people out there, people with different stories. Many of them are just looking for acceptance and love. If we can give just a small dose of each, we can change the world.
I wrote this story for Nafisika Trust (www.nafisikatrust.blogspot.co.ke)
Enjoy and share 😉