Written by Audrey Masitsa

Emma was arrested and charged with hawking without a license. The married mother of two headed into town hoping to sell a few of her wares to provide for her family. Little did she know that this day wouldn’t turn out as she had hoped.

Caught up in her business, Emma wasn’t aware that her life and that of her family was about to change forever. The County Council askaris landed in town, and, in the mayhem that ensued, Emma found herself in the back of a county council van headed to Nairobi County Hall. Her phone broke and she would never see her wares again.

“We were taken to City Hall. Nobody explained anything to us and they wouldn’t listen to anything we had to say,” she explained.

They spent the first night in the cell before being taken to court where her charge was read.

“I was sentenced to three months in prison or a cash bail of KSh10,000 ($100) for hawking without a license. You know how expensive that license is.”

From there they went back to the cell for a second night before being taken to Langata Women’s Maximum Prison.

“That first night was tough. The cell was crowded. Five people had to sleep on one mattress.”

“When we got to Langata, we were tasked with cleaning the whole day since some very important guests were due to arrive the following day. Then, they cut off our hair. I had braids.”

Although Emma laughs as she narrates her story, you get a sense of how unfortunate the whole situation is. Her children slept hungry that first night after her arrest. Luckily, a friend picked them up and stayed with them until their mother’s release.

“My husband was attacked by thugs at the same time I was arrested so he couldn’t stay with the children,” she remembers. “We call it a double tragedy.”

Emma was released after three days when another friend paid her bail. The same friend received her at the prison gates and took her to her children.

“I’m back at home now, reunited with my family,” she explains.

Post-imprisonment, Emma hasn’t managed to get gainful employment and her husband doesn’t work either. She was left in a worse position than she was before the arrest.

“We survive by the grace of well-wishers,” she says.

When asked what she wishes could be done differently, she says, “Even if one has been arrested, they should be treated with dignity and not harassed. Their wrongdoing should be explained to them and they in turn given a chance to explain themselves.”

Emma took part in the second cohort of Clean Start’s Ufunuo Program on the outside. The Ufunuo Program is a training program where the women are taken on a journey of self-discovery, breaking old habits and limiting beliefs, creating new pathways and beliefs that enable them to unleash their potential. The program helped Emma regain her confidence and map out her future.

She is now enrolled in Buildher, a Clean Start partner. Buildher equips women in Kenya with accredited construction and manufacturing skills for greater financial prosperity, changing male attitudes and promoting gender equality within the construction industry.