While incarcerated at Langata Women’s Prison in Kenya, I discovered a craft which would change my life forever. I had been in prison since 2009 where I was serving time for robbery. I missed my two boys and sister terribly and it was a very difficult time for me.
Portrait of Caroline Wanjiku taken while she was serving time at Langata Women’s Prison in Nairobi, Kenya
In 2016, Her Excellency Mama Rachel Ruto, the spouse to the Deputy President, visited Langata Prison where, we learned, she would be teaching us a new skill. I was excited that such a prominent person cared about incarcerated people like me and was looking forward to learning a new craft. However, I was also wary as there had been previous projects run in the prisons which took advantage of us and didn’t pay us for our work. I soon enrolled in the Carakana programme, and was taught Cross Stitch by Her Excellency Mama Rachel Ruto and the team from Carakana.
Cross-stitching is very intricate and is one of the oldest forms of embroidery. It uses number codes on a grid of squares marked on a piece of cloth to guide on thread colour and sowing direction, resulting in a pattern of threading that reveals an embedded picture or other artistic representation that would otherwise not be visible to the naked eye.
I have come a long way since 2016 and my first lesson, and I have created a number of beautiful art pieces. The money paid to me for my work helped me to pay school fees for my two boys and my sister and enabled me to care for my upkeep while in prison.
About Carakana Documentary, from the collection of Carakana on Google Arts & Culture (link)
While the financial empowerment that cross stitching has given me and the beauty of the end product are of huge importance, these are not the only reasons I did it. When I was incarcerated, cross stitching brought my fellow inmates and I together. During the times we worked together, we got to share our experiences and found the space and time to help each other in our difficult circumstances. This helped to occupy our minds more with our focus on the stitching and our sense of community and less with the anxious thoughts of our separation from our families and the fate of our court cases. During the night, my sleep came a lot easier after a full day of focused stitching.
In 2020 I was released from prison and joined my two boys at home. With the money I saved while in prison I am running a small business. I have Carakana to thank for the life that I am now enjoying.
I am humbled and privileged to have my work, and that of my colleagues, profiled on Google Arts & Culture with Carakana and hope that my story will inspire others. To learn more, visit here or download the Google Arts & Culture app for Android or iOS.