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Violence at home honed my skills as a gangster

Mary Wanjiru, wife of the late notorious gangster Bernard Thuo Matheri aka Rasta, had a troubled childhood that saw her lead a life of crime. The reformed gangster, now a pastor, traces where it all started

Sandra Wekesa @andayisandra

Growing up, Mary Wanjiru never experienced parental love. Theirs was a polygamous family of one husband, two wives and 24 children. She grew up in a violent home; she could witness her mother being beaten up by her father almost every night. Her parents were drunkards. At one point, she attempted suicide when she was 13.

A bright pupil, she dreamt of becoming a surgeon. But it was this troubled childhood that saw Wanjiru, wife of the late Bernard Thuo Matheri aka Rasta, take a path of robbery and violence. Her husband was gunned down on September 1997.

Their accomplices, Wanugu and Wacucu, had been killed in 1996. Two years later, Wanjiru was arrested after a Sh196 million robbery in Meru. She was sentenced 35 years to prison the same year. But though Wanjiru turned out a criminal, she wanted the best for her children. She left them under the care of her brother.

“I remember I was so bitter with myself and everything that happened to me. While I was behind bars, I couldn’t help, but think of my children. I mean, how were they holding up, were they okay?

Were they experiencing any stigma? Many questions were running through my mind, and every time that happened, I could go down on my knees to pray for them,” says Wanjiru. Time flew by so fast and worries began to fade away. Her 35-year sentenced was reduced to seven then later four on appeal and on June1, 2002 she was released.

Going back to her family was the best thing that had ever happened to her. She couldn’t wait to see how big her children had grown. “I noticed that my last born had lost so much weight. I would just cry when I looked at them.

I felt hurt, but as a mother and single parent, I understood I had to be strong for them and make sure they grew up in the right way. My children are my pride, I have three children and I was so happy to see them become again.

A minute would not pass before looking at how big they had become when I was away,” she recalls. She decided to open a pub to make ends meet. It wasn’t too long before she was arrested for again the following year.

This time, she alleges she was falsely accused. She reveals that many people didn’t believe she had reformed. “I admit I was a dangerous gangster, I used to steal and shoot to kill, but this time, I was innocent,” she says.

While in prison, Wanjiru committed her life to Christ and started preaching. She felt prisoners needed a second chance from their family and loved ones. Though she was behind bars for the better part of her children growing up, she always enquired about them.

“My brother was there for my children, walking with them at every step. But behind bars, my children occupied most of my mind,” she says. In 2008, she was released from prison. She saw this as a chance to be with her family having been away from them for close to a decade. She walked out of prison a preacher.

“My children faced stigma from everyone who knew me as Matheri’s second wife; from school to home and even at church. It was hard dealing with it—strength is all I needed to raise my children, especially since I had been away from their lives for a long time. ”

The greatest lesson Wanjiru ever learnt was the act of forgiveness and also unity of the family. She admits to being her children’s best friend. “My children cannot do anything without consulting me.We all forgot about the past and it has really helped us become a great family,” she adds. Her advice? “Parents should take marriage seriously.

They should also love and care for their children. Your children, your responsibility. No matter the disagreements between a husband and wife, children should not be part of it,” she says.

She is happy that her children turned out just fine. Wanjiru may not have been a surgeon, but her firstborn daughter lived her dream. She is a surgeon who resides in Italy. Her second daughter is a dentist at a hospital in Kikuyu. Her last born is in high school.

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