Good morning friends.
At QuadW Tarime, we are a community of 4 Tanzanians, 1 Mexican, and 3 Americans living together, praying together, serving together, and making disciples together.
Every evening at 9 pm, we pray with our neighbors.
One of the first neighbors to come pray with us in the evenings was Mama Jeni. After praying with us every evening for a while, she asked if she could make an announcement. We agreed, and in her announcement, she asked if it would be possible for us to start preaching every night. We laughed, and agreed. Since then, we have had a very short sermon each night at evening prayer.
We were looking forward to seeing Mama Jeni the following night, to show her that we had taken her suggestion seriously, but she did not show up. This was odd, as she was usually so consistent.
The next morning, her daughter Jeni shocked us by telling us that Mama Jeni was in jail.
“Why? What happened?”, we asked, without thinking. We were just so surprised.
Jeni relayed to us how Mama Jeni and her friend Mama Kiri had never gotten along with one of their neighboring families. I don’t want to accuse this family publicly, so I’ll simply call them Neighbor 1 and Neighbor 2, a married couple.
The anger and hatred had built up after years of fighting and angry silence. Finally, Neighbor 1 saw a chance to really wound them. She had hired Mama Jeni and Mama Kiri to fill a large plastic drum with water. When the job was done, Neighbor 1 claimed that she had found poison in the drum, and that Mama Jeni and Mama Kiri were trying to poison her. No witnesses, no pictures, no evidence, but Neighbor 1 and 2 bribed the judge and the police. Mama Jeni and Mama Kiri were taken to the police station, given a very short trial (again, no witnesses), sentenced to 14 months in prison, and taken to their cells, all within one day.
We couldn’t believe our ears. How could a sentencing happen so fast? How could the judge hand them such a long sentence, without any witnesses or evidence?
The following Sunday, we went to the jail with their families and with quite a few of our neighbors. It was certainly true; there were Mama Jeni and Mama Kiri, wearing the yellow gowns that female prisoners wear in Tanzania. We greeted them, and they tried to hold back their tears. I’d never seen grown women of the Kuria tribe crying before. We prayed for them and promised them that we would do anything that we could to help them.
That Sunday evening, we had a meeting with their families. We were all confused as we tried to make sense of the details of the case. What we came up with, though, was that Mama Jeni and Mama Kiri had panicked when they were brought in front of the judge. In their panic, they had asked if we could please forgive each other and end this misunderstanding (the most common way of resolving disagreements in Tanzania). The judge replied that asking for forgiveness means that you have admitted to the crime. He ignored the other required paperwork, skipped due process required to imprison someone in Tanzania, and sentenced them to 14 months; even though his primary court only has the authority to sentence someone to 6 months or less.
We talked about what we might be able to do. It seemed easy enough. The judge had made some very basic mistakes in the sentencing. Couldn’t we just find a lawyer, point out the mistakes, and appeal the case to the Tarime District Court? Surely we wouldn’t encounter much resistance from Neighbor 1 and Neighbor 2 at the district court.
Between the two families, they could come up with $75. Hiring the lawyer would cost $140, so we put together our personal savings to help them pay the remaining $65.
It was easy enough to get an appeal granted, and the hearing was set for July 15th, which still meant 8 weeks in jail. We continued to visit them at the jail each Sunday, usually with their families and our neighbors. We felt so badly for their children, separated suddenly from their mothers. We did our best to visit these children and spend time with them, and one member of our community, Nancy Martinez, became an especially close and constant friend to these girls.
Our lawyer immediately petitioned for bail. But instead of hearing that it was granted, we were stunned to learn that the neighbors who had accused them had hired their own lawyer. Their lawyer was more skilled, experienced, and expensive than ours. He countered our request for bail, and the district judge agreed, and denied our request. We could hardly believe it. Neighbor 1 and Neighbor 2 were really willing to invest quite a bit of money, just to keep their neighbors in jail.
We met with the families again. We talked about hiring a better lawyer, and about trying to reach out to more contacts in the Tarime legal system. Shouldn’t we try and get more help, to counter this lawyer?
After quite a bit of talking it over, one of the families told us that they had good reason to trust this lawyer deeply. They simply, humbly, asked us to trust them and their lawyer. It was a difficult decision, and our whole team felt pretty anxious about it, but we agreed to trust them.
As the district court hearing drew nearer, we became more anxious. There were rumors that the accusing party had bribed the district judge. At one point, the accusing party sent a representative asking Mama Jeni’s husband to sign a vague document, on the promise that it could end the feud and free them from jail. He brought it to the lawyer, and the lawyer told him that this is a common legal trap, so he didn’t sign. Around this time, we learned that the primary court judge who had originally sentenced them had been removed from office and was now being investigated, due to multiple legal mistakes, and accusations of corruption.
Finally, the district court hearing arrived, and it was disheartening as well. Our lawyer didn’t even show up. The prosecuting attorney made an impressive showing, in spite of the original sentencing mistakes, and things looked grim. The judge said that she would review the case and deliver the sentence the following Friday, July 22nd.
We regrouped and met with their families. We all agreed that things looked bad, but we decided to reach out to Mwita, our assistant site director. Someone asked if our dear friend Anna Migera might be able to help as well. We reached out to Mwita and Anna, and they agreed to ask for a meeting with the district court judge to see if anything could be done.
The meeting took place on the following Wednesday. After listening to Mwita and Anna, the judge fiercely replied that the time to take action had passed. She asked them to leave and to just wait for her to deliver the sentence on Friday.
On Friday morning, we met and prayed for the case, but we did not feel much hope inside. Friday is our day of rest, so most of us went back to our rooms after praying. A few hours later, as we were trying to rest, I became very annoyed by a large group of children who burst through our front door and ran into our house. “How many times do we have to tell them not to come in without knocking…” I said to myself.
Dinnah and Doto went to meet them, then suddenly knocked on our door, “Davis, Veronica, njoo!” (Come quick!)
“They are free! The sentence is just 3 months of community service. And even that… it’s only 2 hours, on Monday and Tuesday! They are out of jail, and they’ll be here soon!”
I couldn’t believe it. I called all of the other family members, scrambling to confirm it. Yes, yes, they all agreed. They are free, it’s over.
Evening prayer that night was a lively affair. Mama Jeni sang a beautiful, long song for us. Then she told us about how she hoped that we could continue visiting the other women at the jail. She wanted to continue showing them love, encouraging them, and helping them to become disciples of Jesus. Then, Dinnah preached. We were finally able to show Mama Jeni that we had taken her request seriously.
We had a party together the following day, here are some pictures. The title means, “freedom for prisoners” (Luke 4).
You can make more of this happen by donating in whichever way is easiest:
Note: We don’t really understand why they were allowed to go free. Mwita said that he did not know, but his best guess was that the judge was a basically kind and just woman. After our lawyer explained the case and the reason for the appeal, she wanted to set the women free. However, she also understood the pride of the Kuria tribe and their penchant for long-lasting, bloody feuds. After seeing the lengths to which the accusing family was going to win the case, she wanted to finish the matter by making them feel like they had won. She did not want it to be appealed, nor did she want out-of-court violence, but neither did she want the women to actually be sentenced to any time in jail. This was the reason for denying them bail, and for sentencing them to three months of light community service. I can’t say I understand this entirely, but this is our best explanation so far.