The breadth and depth of autobiographical writing remains a tall tale that only God and the autobiographer himself or herself can verify the veracity thereof of the story. Every time I pick my copy of Saga McOdongo’s Deadly Money Maker to read, I find that I discover more questions as opposed to answers. Saga McOdongo aka Judith Akinyi is known as the former Kenya Polytechnic lecturer who turned into a drug trafficker, a prisoner, an assumed transformed woman and now possibly a prisoner again for alleged lapse into drug trafficking.
I choose to refer to her autobiography as a “tale” deliberately to underscore the failure of the text to resonate with the reader. There are too many gaps that are left wide open. Gaps that dent holes into her perceived conversion from a drug trafficker to an assumed redeemed one. This is especially so bearing in mind that in mid 2010 there were reports that Judith Akinyi had been caught in Italy allegedly trafficking more drugs even after she had convincingly written her text as testimony of her remorse and assumed change of character.
Ideally, an autobiography is expected to help the writer bare her/his soul to the scrutiny of the reader. There is always an assumed sense of trust that is established between the autobiographer and the reader. When this trust is breached, then the autobiography fails in its effort to edify the reader.
It can be argued that Deadly Money Maker breaks the bond of trust the minute the writer chooses a surrogate author to tell her tale. The reader becomes suspicious that the writer could be hiding something hence masquerading and foiling her actions by using a pseudonym. It is this instance that first raises the antennae of doubt about this autobiography.
Furthermore, actions/events in the autobiography must in essence appear credible. Unfortunately, this is not so as far as this autobiography is concerned. The persona comes from a relatively well-to-do family and hence there is no justification for her to use the excuse of money to engage in crime. At the time that she is tempted to join Queen in her deadly money making business, the persona is the daughter of parents who own several rental houses in Buru Buru – a middle class estate.
Her justification that she had to do what Queen was coercing her to do albeit unknowingly is accepted with a pinch of salt. She appears to lay blame on witchcraft but is not believable when she says that she found herself in Pakistan without knowing what business she was to engage in. The question thus begs, if she had already suspected Queen to be a mysterious and dangerous person, then why did she agree to be lured into a business partnership with her?
Other aspects that raise concern about the autobiographical truth of her text include the exaggerated excerpts where she makes attempts to underline her spirituality and assumed redemption. She appears to have quickly metamorphosed and become remorseful of her actions. The reader faults the persona as someone who might be courting for sympathy and early release from prison. Ultimately she benefits from a presidential pardon after serving about seven years out of the eleven she had been sentenced to serve. Watch the story about her return to prison here: https://youtu.be/th4U2CDRdhI
She appears to manipulate the emotions of the reader and to lay emphasis on her guilt and regret. This is albeit the fact that she neither provides details of her husband nor his profession and how her imprisonment affects her family. The tales that she gives about victims of drug abuse being brought to prison and some going insane or dying appear like contrived stories meant to draw the reader to empathise with her and thereby hopefully forgive her. She eventually appears to have succeeded especially when she selflessly takes care of a fellow prisoner who is ailing from HIV/AIDS and who finally succumbs.
McOdongo dedicates a large part of her autobiography to spiritual matters. For example she says that “I was filled with the urge to read the Bible.” (80) As a result, she gives her life to God and begins the spiritual journey to attain redemption. She even compares herself to great men and women in the Bible who had fallen short of God’s glory but later turned to Him for salvation: Paul/Saul, David, Rahab, Moses, Mary Magdalene etc. These analogies are purposed solely to draw the reader to identify with the persona’s wish for empathy and understanding for her fall. Like them, she can also rise from grass to grace.
The remorse and regret exhibited in the autobiography however does not seem to hold together owing to the autobiographical gaps. Her confessions appear to be overtly exaggerated and her release from prison is not talked about. On the contrary, she is slightly humanised by her forgiveness and testimony against Queen when the latter is tried and convicted in the US. As a result, her failure to interrogate her criminal and prison experiences deeper leaves her autobiography dry and brittle. Hers, thus, comes across as another “tale” from prison which may not necessarily be believable.
It is thus not surprising to hear reports that she might be doing another term in prison for allegedly slipping and falling back into the very snare she had made attempts to convince the reader that she had overcome. It is tragic and regrettable that her autobiography would fall short of the ability to edify the reader and thereby act as a testimony of the writer’s redemption from the shackles of crime. Does her text pander to candour or is it just another tale?