My Pied a Terre
Interaction with people from the free world is something that every inmate looks forward to. I thoroughly enjoy finding out about people I knew, places I frequented and events that I would have loved to attend. As much as I want to know about the happenings beyond the walls that imprison me, I generally do not get much time to be the questioner as everyone wants their own curiosities about prison satisfied.
The most common questions I am asked are with regard to; where I sleep/stay, what I eat, what I am allowed to have, what I do in all the time I have, is there violence, did anyone try to rape me and many more. As the images or ideas you probably have of prison, from watching TV shows and the media, is very different to the reality of the situation I will try to paint the real picture.
My 1512 days in prison thus far have been spread over 3 maximum security prisons. All 3 prisons are absolutely different, not only in their physical layouts but in every way imaginable. Currently, I am at a centre which is supposedly one of 4 national “Centre’s of Excellence;” due to the educational activities.
My home is a triple story building. It has 5 main wings, a hospital section, reception/visit area, kitchen and management offices. All the different sections are linked by a central walkway. Each of the 5 main wings house roughly 100 inmates over 2 floors. The wings or units as we call them have their own managers who oversee the day to day running of their units. Each unit has 2 courtyards; generally one is used for soccer and 1 for hanging washing. The units each also have a dining room, recreation room, washing room, store rooms, a managers’ office and 2 communal showers.
The unit I reside in consists of mainly tertiary students. Our recreation room is a library. We have 2 courtyards which are meticulously maintained. One courtyard is a grassed area bordered by plants. The other is broken into 3 sections; one sandy area for playing soccer, one for our fishpond and one for a vegetable garden. The inmates with green fingers put a great deal of effort into maintaining and frequently altering their meagre landscape.
Each floor of the unit is lined with 2, back-to-back, rows of cells. Between the cells is a maintenance area wherein all the piping and electrical wiring leads.
Prisons are actually relatively clean in general. Cleaning material is found in abundance (good tender to have!) and officials inspect regularly, ensuring decent standards of cleanliness. My section is thankfully the cleanest by a long way, due in no coincidence to the fact that it is the only section run by a white manager. He also ensures that there are actually fish in the fish pond. The communal areas are cleaned by inmates employed to do so twice a day. Cells are cleaned by their residents and inspected formally once a week.
The cells we stay in have one entrance accessed by an 8 cm thick steel door and solid steel gate. The door and gate are locked when the prison is closed every afternoon. During the day, inmates are allowed to lock their cells with their own padlocks. The door has a flap on it through which officials are able to look inside during the night, however this seldom happens.
The wall opposite to the door of the rectangular space is lined at eye level with windows. The sight through the windows is of the cell behind. The windows open a few centimetres before being restricted by a thick steel mesh. In summer the slight breeze through the open windows is a welcome relief, however in winter cold air finds its way in through the gaps left by windows unable to close properly.
The cell is 2.4 m long and 2.1 m wide. The floor and roof is bare concrete. The walls are made of brick and painted beige. We have some posters of dream cars and places that cover most of the drab paint. Lighting is provided by a central fitting with 2 fluorescent bulbs. The light is actually too bright for the small space so I have pasted paper over it to dim it slightly. Residents are able to determine when they want the lights on or off. The light switch is unfortunately outside of the cell. The only
way to manipulate the switch is through the flap on the door. One has to push a piece of broomstick through the flap and then hit at the switch. My coordination is not that great when I can see the target so trying to switch off the lights is a task I attempted once (for over an hour) and never again.
The other fittings in the cell are a toilet in one corner and a steel sink next to it; both under the windows. The toilet also doubles as a seat when the lid (a piece of plank) is down. The sink has a hot and cold water tap. In winter there is rarely hot water and in summer the hot water is boiling almost all day long. On the floor between the toilet and wall we keep a box for cleaning material. The prison provides green bar soap, dishwashing liquid soap, a Jeyes fluid rip off and ultra strong bleach. We also get brooms, toilet brushes and cloths.
One side of the cell is taken up by a double bunk bed and a locker. I sleep on the top bunk because the cell had one occupant when I arrived. My cellmate is serving a 20 year sentence for armed robbery and the plethora of charges that go with it. I am fortunate that we get along well. He is a dedicated student, spending many hours every day with his books. He takes schedule 6 sleeping tablets every night at around 7 pm, so by 8pm he is in dreamland until the next morning (and if he managed to get dagga then he wakes up by lunch). This gives me the liberty to do what I want without bothering my roomie at all.
We use our locker to store our foodstuff, kettle and iron. Clothing is stored under the bed in private kit-bags. Clothing that we want to wear the next day or not get creased is put on hangers and hung from a nail in the wall. I have nails all over to hang clothing, dishcloths, towels, keys and even one high up for my Qurans.
The wall opposite the bed is taken up by a desk (a typical school desk) and chair alongside a cabinet. There are only about 5 cabinets in the prison. The other cells only have desks. My cabinet cost me R100 which in prison is a lot of money, it was worth the every cent. My four shelves enable us to keep our books, tv, radio, 2 laptops, study lamp, toiletries other and odds and ends rather neatly. Without the cabinet we would have to use boxes.
Living out of boxes would not cut it, especially when I live on Millionaires row. The row of cells that I live in earned this name because the inmates living here are ones who all have tv’s and computers. We also put money together to pay for extra cleaning of our corridor and have plants lining our corridor. Most of my neighbours are ex-celebs, high profile fraudsters or cash in transit hijackers. Our row also has a view over the lawn and pond; and in the distance civilization. And if anyone is interested in moving into one of the penthouses, they are very rare and cost a hefty R200. Even in prison property is all about location, location, location!