Thousands walk for redemption in Nairobi, raising awareness and support

By January 29, 2013

Kenya (MNN) — Kenyan prisoners reentering society face stereotypes and have a hard time finding employment and housing.

"The attitude of Kenyan society [toward reentry] is very negative," says Jefferson Gathu, director of Crossroad Bible Institute (CBI) Kenya. "When someone is released from prison, he or she is subjected to stigmatization.

"'He is not an ordinary person,' society says. 'That person deserves to die.'"

CBI Kenya is changing all of that. The group wants Kenyans to know change is possible and that a person with sufficient reentry assistance is unlikely to commit another crime.

Crossroad Bible Institute disciples incarcerated people worldwide through satellite campuses. CBI's reentry program is designed to help inmates connect with reentry agencies during the difficult transition from prison to society. The goal is to help those preparing for reentry secure housing, locate a church and find a job.

But in Kenya, there are no reentry programs in the prisons and very few resources to help returning citizens avoid recidivism. Without the support of a reentry program, released citizens have a 75% chance of committing another crime and a 50% chance of returning to prison.

"Here in Kenya, when a person is released from prison, he is left on his own," explains Gathu. "Thus it is almost impossible for that person to survive, let alone find a place to work."

Fighting the tides of social stigma and limited resources, Gathu grappled with the difficulty of meeting a rising demand for reentry assistance. In order to succeed, a reentry program needed support from both government officials and private citizens.

Instead of asking for funding, CBI Kenya and Cistern Prison Ministry decided to develop a platform to raise awareness of the issue. They organized a six-mile walk to educate Kenyans about the difficulties returning citizens face.

"The core objective was to create awareness in our churches, institutions and government agencies about the importance of reentry programs," Gathu says. On December 8, 2012, some 3,500 people took to the streets of Nairobi in support of CBI's reentry program.

"We were unable to keep actual track [of participants] because there were so many," says Gathu. "They came in thousands."

Even the Kenyan government offered to support CBI's program. Officials have promised the ministries a plot of land on which to construct facilities for reentry support.

Currently, the reentry program pioneered by CBI Kenya and Cistern Prison Ministry sponsors twenty people each year. The program begins with religious education and discipleship during the final stage of the prison sentence, as CBI Kenya works with the prison chaplaincy department to organize a reconciliation process between the individual, family and community. Participants keep following up with the program for six months following their release.

Gathu dreams of expanding the reentry program to include a counseling center, career training programs and halfway house. Without such resources, he says, some returning citizens "turn to the streets or confine themselves in lonely places." His desire is for participants to have a safe haven while CBI Kenya helps them reconnect with society, employers and family.

"Through past experience, we have proven that if people released from prison can get enough assistance, there is minimal chance of them returning to crime," he says.

Pray that people would see the transforming power of Christ. Pray that they would come alongside the ministry of CBI Kenya.

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