Teresa Njoroge was burdened with shame and betrayal when she boarded a bus headed to Langata Women’s Maximum Security Prison in Kenya.
As a woman with no influence or power, she became the scapegoat for a major financial error at the bank where she worked. She and her then-infant daughter would spend the next year behind bars.
“My faith was really shaken,” she shared with us. “I was confused because I knew that God was a God of justice. Knowing that the God I served had parted the Red Sea for the Israelites and done so many amazing things . . . I was certain He would come through for me because He knew I was innocent. . . . Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. . . . I really wrestled with God for about three months.”
Raising her daughter behind bars was incredibly difficult. Teresa told us over Zoom that prisons in Kenya are notoriously underfunded and overcrowded, making essentials and food scarce. With dozens of children incarcerated alongside their mothers at her facility, many women resorted to reusing paper bags fashioned into makeshift diapers.
Throughout her sentence, Teresa listened to the stories of nearly seven hundred women, and she noticed common threads in their stories: many were poor, marginalized, and vulnerable. The more she spoke with other women and learned about the challenges they faced, the more she heard God’s voice and appreciated His love for her.
“I began looking at my life as a blessing,” she said. “I stopped questioning Him and why He brought me there and started thanking Him for the opportunities that had been given to me up to that point.”
Shortly before Teresa entered prison, Crossroads Kenya was established by Jefferson Gathu, who now serves as the regional director of Crossroads Africa.
Though she was unable to participate in the Crossroads studies during her incarceration because she was tasked with taking care of the children, Teresa felt the ripple effects of the developing program and was deeply touched by Jefferson’s kindness. Passionate about supporting the women at Langata, Jefferson sat on the prison discharge board to ensure that anyone graduating from the Crossroads program received the support they needed upon their release.
When Teresa was released, Jefferson extended the same support and encouragement to her. His support became essential when Teresa’s church and community shunned her after her release.
“Jefferson reminded me that I was cared for and thought of when my family and friends turned their backs on me,” she shared. “Jefferson was very different. He didn’t judge me. He kept me in his prayers and kept encouraging me. He always supported and trusted me and continues to do so.”
Inspired by Jefferson’s support and propelled by the need to make a change, Teresa decided she couldn’t turn her back on the women with whom she had served time.
In 2015, Teresa founded Clean Start, a social enterprise established to provide a second chance to women impacted by the criminal justice system in Kenya and throughout Africa. Clean Start equips women in prison with the skills, tools, and support they need to break the cycle of incarceration and poverty. Her work with Clean Start led to an invitation in 2017 to speak at the TEDWomen Conference in New Orleans, LA.
Through her work with Clean Start, Teresa remains an advocate for the Crossroads program.
“No matter how many programs are brought into the prison, if you don’t find your anchor in Christ, it doesn’t matter,” she said. “I think Crossroads is a program that every single person who is in prison should take. Why? It will anchor them to have a foundation and a path of restoration after the program.”
From her experience, Teresa acknowledges that the Church has been slow in taking up prison ministry. She desires to raise awareness of the need to support and empower people impacted by the criminal justice system.
“Everyone is deserving of a second chance, even those who’ve committed a crime. Often, we forget about those reintegrating from prison,” she shared. “So many women recidivate because they didn’t have anyone on the outside.”
Receiving encouragement, support, and prayer in a season of desperation was critical to Teresa’s success.
“I remain forever grateful to Crossroads because of that bridge and initial support,” Teresa told us. “What if hundreds of thousands more people incarcerated around the world knew that someone was praying for them and believed in them? If they knew who they truly are and who Jesus is?”
Watch Teresa’s TED talk here:
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