COMING TO YOUR SCREENS

When John Kiriamiti’s My Life in Crime
came out in 1984, there had never been
a book like it.
And even the author, who wrote the
manuscript while doing time at
Naivasha Maximum Security Prison,
could not have anticipated the scope of
his work and the influence that it
would carry.
The hype surrounding the book’s
release was so big that buyers
reportedly queued outside bookstores to
get a copy.
With 40 reprints to date and a Dutch
translation, My Life in Crime remains
the best-selling Kenyan novel of all
time. And soon, fans of the timeless
drama will get to relive the drama on
the small screen.
A Kenyan TV production company,
AfreDev, has optioned the TV rights to
My Life in Crime and its sequel, My Life
with a Criminal: Milly’s Story for a TV
series scheduled to begin showing on
local television in June 2018.
According to Ramadhan Nungu, filming
for the first season is complete. The
company bought the rights for an
undisclosed amount in early 2017.
The TV script and plot will stay as close
to the books as possible, says Kiriamiti,
who has been retained as adviser on the
works.
“This is an opportunity for my fans to
enjoy my work all over again,” says the
author.
A FEW CHANGES
“A few changes (were necessary) based
on obvious changes to the scenes
depicted in the book over the years,”
says Ramadhan. “But if a scene is in,
say, Congo, we shoot in Congo. We have
kept it as real as possible.”
That the book is being adapted into TV
is for many fans overdue, but not quite.
In many ways, My Life in Crime was
already TV-ready. For anyone who
came of age in the 1980s and most of
the 1990s — the pre-Internet age —
Kiriamiti’s two most popular books
provided material vivid enough as to be
a moving picture.
The books’ appeal was as much in the
content and delivery as the politics of
what was legit and what was considered
contraband in many schools.
My Life in Crime was not exactly the
book school libraries were overshooting
their budgets to stock. The few copies
available usually went limp, the cover
frayed from the frequent exchange of
hands.
“I remember reading the book after
lights out, in bed when I was in Form
Two,” recalls Isaac Waweru, who went
to high school in the mid-1990s. “I used
a pen-torch and I couldn’t put the book
down.”
THE FOX IN REPOSE
I meet Kiriamiti at the Ma ‘H’ bus stage.
It is a fitting place to meet; the stage
derives its name from nearby Ma ‘H’
hotel, an establishment that, much like
Kiriamiti, was the news in the 1970s
and ’80s.
Joseph Kamaru sang about it, the
celebrities of the day patronised it. We
decide to take a walk down main street.
Kiriamiti, I discover, carries quite some
celebrity around town, and, in keeping
with his old life when he went by
several aliases, hardly anyone refers to
him by his real name.
“Muthige, hallo!” shouts a man carrying
a load of second-hand clothes.
“Muthige!” Kiriamiti hollers back.
Muthige means fox in Kikuyu language,
Kiriamiti tells me. It is the name most
people know him by, a moniker he
picked after he moved to Murang’a
town following his second jail term.
At the height of the government
crackdown on dissidents, Kiriamiti was
imprisoned for three years by the Moi
government on Mwakenya charges in
1987.
At 67, Kiriamiti is a sprite of a man.
Save for his nearly wool-white hair,
which also gives him a serene air, he
appears youthful and laughs at the
slightest provocation.
His famous chin is as oval as ever, with
the trademark clutch of hair below his
lower lip.
John Kiriamiti was 15 years old when
he dropped out of high school. With
Sh600 stolen from his father’s jacket, he
took a bus from his home village of
Thuita in Kamacharia, Murang’a
County, and moved to Nairobi with
dreams of making it big.
TOUGH CITY LIFE
But life in the capital city soon proved
to be tougher than the teenage Kiriamiti
had imagined it.
Out of money and means, Kiriamiti
soon fell in with a gang, first as a petty
thief before progressing gradually up
the food chain into hardcore crime, and
the fast life. By the time he was nabbed,
in 1971 at age 21, Kiriamiti had
participated in bank heists of such
daring that he was on the list of the
most wanted criminals in the country.
After serving 13 years of his prison
term, Kiriamiti was released on
recommendation for good conduct, and
pioneering prison literacy while in jail.
Unbeknownst to him, celebrity had
preceded him by the time he tasted
freedom; five months earlier, the
manuscript for My Life in Crime had
made its way to the desk of Henry
Chakava, the renowned publisher at the
time working at Heinemann Publishers.
The runaway success of My Life in Crime
inspired Kiriamiti to write the follow-
up, Son of Fate — a fictional take on his
life; The Sinister Trophy and My Life in
Prison — solid if unspectacular books.
But it was My Life with a Criminal:
Milly’s Story that transported readers
back to Kiriamiti’s first book, if for the
romantic angle and re-imagining.
Before the TV project came up,
Kiriamiti had settled into a quiet, easy
life, shuttling between his farm at
Kamacharia and some business interests
in Nairobi.
After he was pried free from jail in 1990
and for the next two decades, Kiriamiti
sought anonymity in Murang’a town.
He needed to be away from Nairobi and
the trappings that had sucked him into
crime. Plus, he was raising a family.
He is the father of three daughters.
“This was the best environment for me
and my young family. My first born
daughter was born here,” he says.
He started a news publication, The
Sharpener, which ran the gamut of
Murang’a town and environs, carrying
politics, gossip and business. The paper
folded several years ago. He is currently
working on his sixth book, cautiously
titled Abduction Squad.
But for all his literary success,
Kiriamiti considers raising a solid
family his greatest pride.
The girls are their own selves, growing
into their own. His first born, Annrita,
23, is a blogger and actor.
“I grew up amidst books,” says Annrita.
“We had a big library and I took
interest in reading while still very
young. But I didn’t grow up under any
shadow; I chose my career.”
Kiriamiti has been on the lecture
circuit, giving talks to secondary school
students. He talks to students about
writing, about dreams, but it all comes
round to the genre that made him for a
while, broke him, and which he can
never really escape from, but is no
longer imprisoned by: crime.
“Look,” he says. “No child is born a
criminal, or a professor, or pilot. All
children are born the same, it’s the
upbringing that shapes them.”
About a decade ago, while going about
business in Murang’a town, Kiriamiti
stopped short: down the street was a
gaggle of street boys idling about,
smoking. The old fox in him reared and
in a minute Kiriamiti fashioned a whip
and rounded up the boys.
“I saw them and I realized many were
on the wrong path,” he says. “And all
they needed was guidance.” With the
help of friends and a few referrals,
nearly all the children were placed
back to their homes with some provided
with basic skills and are now fully
rehabilitated. In retrospect, it was him
repaying a debt, but then again maybe
not, just a bad man turned good. As he
writes in the intro to My Life in Crime:
As concerns my part in it, be good and
forget it, I am already a reformed
person.
That little part might also play out in
the TV series. He hopes it does. It is part
of what he hopes to be his legacy.

Good stuff…iko kwa gazeti

This is going to be interesting to watch. I wonder if they will really pull it off. As in, if it’s a 80s story, are they going to find 80s costumes, cars, newspapers, slang etc like they do in hollywood, ama we’ll be treated to scenes whereby people use cellphones in the 80s, and use words like tibim, and read Saturday Nation…
The alternative to that headache is to make it a modern version of that story. Like, have the characters live in 2017 but largely keep to the story.

Book is very small for a series. Won’t go far

Sijasoma lakini wewe na umeffi mnapelekana

Fiction wataongeza huko Ndani

Interesting. I enjoyed the books back then. Will enjoy the series also.

yeah nation

Pdf for us youngings?

Where can I get a hard copy of this book? It’s not on amazon

Read it in primary school. Let’s await it.

Glass half empty kind of guy ?

Ubaya ni kupea ka slay queen role ya milly .I loved that book maaaad!!

I, too, am afraid they’ll not be in a position to make it appear 70s/80s thing unless they get assistance from Hollywood blockbusters. that shit ain’t easy.

there’s something about that book that really was in touch with the reader, i remember first reading and re-reading it in high sch, actually my desk mate after reading John’s book was so much moved he decided to be a writer,… currently he is a lecturer of literature and a columnist in a local daily.

Ziko kadhaa huku kwa bookshops

I have read all Kiriamiti novels,are they going to show where he made passionate Love to Milly after escaping from Kamiti prison

Kutakua na episode ya kuhepa na bill ya jug Daniels ?

John Kiriamiti has been my fav local author. Another book I’d like to see a movie about is Across the Bridge.

Another one is Equatorial Assignment by David Maillu