Eddie Odero, 40, is a reformed former member of a criminal gang whose childhood friends were shot dead after a botched robbery attempt.
He spoke to the Nairobian about missing death by a whisker, his difficult upbringing in a broken family and how he turned over a new leaf.
Your relationship with your dad wasn’t the best. What transpired?
That’s true. My parents separated when I was very young and this really affected me. I was born in Homabay but my late father and I relocated to Kitui after his marriage failed. I ran away from home because my father was a dictator and womaniser. My father was a businessman and mother was working in Amboseli back then.
You mentioned you found solace in your friends, who were later killed.
Yes. My late friends were the only people I could count on to survive in the city. It was painful to see my friend’s lifeless bodies lying on the ground. They were like family. I felt so bad when they died and I wanted to commit suicide because people didn’t like me because they knew I was a criminal.
What exactly happened?
It was in March 1999. I was living with a friend of mine and due to the harsh life, we turned to crime to survive. We had no jobs. They used to break into peoples’ houses and steal items like DVDs, TV and Radios.
They mostly operated in Buru Buru, the CBD and along Thika road. On this particular day, I had stepped out of the house to buy lunch when I heard gunshots. There was a lot of commotion and I later learnt that one of my friend had been shot dead after a failed attempted robbery. I was in shock. I had escaped death by a whisker.
How did you end up being part of a criminal gang?
Drugs and a broken family pushed me. My father initiated me into cigarette smoking when I was in class six and constantly reminded me that education had no value. He was a chain smoker and whenever he sent me to the shop to buy cigarettes, I used to hide one or two in my pants and smoke in the toilet.
When my parents separated, it really affected me and I had to drop out of school because my father claimed he was not going to waste his money to educate me. I ran away from father’s home in Kitui and that’s when I met my childhood friends in the city.
Drugs brought us together because they provided the money to buy cocaine and bhang and I was tasked with keeping the stolen goods in the house.
They used to tell me that I was not ‘ripe’ to accompany them. But they had promised to recruit me soon. Luckily, I was not in their company when cops ambushed them. I could be dead.
Did you change your ways?
I feared for my life and each night, I prayed to God asking him to forgive me. I decided to give my life to Christ on that fateful day and swore never to go back to crime. I moved out from Dandora and started to mend my ways.
Do you regret taking that path?
Yes I do because I wasted many years but now all is well. God has done wonders in my life. I counsel those who are hooked on drugs, especially students. I want to save lives. Young people are drowning in depression because of past family wrangles.
How come you were not arrested?
My friends were well connected and they could easily bail me out each time I was arrested. They were also close to the officers, they used to hang out together in drinking joints and they could give them money. Many times I was caught with drugs but they could buy my freedom. They needed me in the house where the stolen items were stored to avoid suspicions.
Are you back on your feet now?
I believe I have because after losing my friends I turned a new leaf and went back to school. I have a diploma in Bible and Theology. I’m also a family man with three kids and an adopted daughter. My wife accepted me because she believed in me and I have learnt that bad company corrupts good character. If you walk with bad people you become like them. Sometimes, we end up making wrong choices in life but God does not forsake us.
What can you tell a young man from a broken family who feels lost?
All is not lost because difficult times are not sent to destroy you. They are sent to promote, increase and strengthen you.