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Prison journalism: Challenges in South African Prisons

07/12/2023

Prison journalism: Challenges in South African PrisonsDean Mashimbwe, a Zimbabwean migrant residing in Cape Town, was incarcerated at Pollsmoor Correctional Centre from 2016 until 2017.

by Dean Mashimbwe

07-12-2023 09:01

in Prison Journalism

Prison

Image via Unsplash

With overcrowding, poor sanitation, poor nutrition, inadequate medical care, and a culture of toxic masculinity, South African prisons are environments conducive to both the transmission of HIV as well as its rapid progression to illness and even death.

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Prison Life in South Africa: A Harsh Reality Prison in South Africa is a completely different world on its own, with its own rules. You might come out of a good home expect absolute hell but do not fear it; it will also pass. Your world will be turned upside down, so try and foresee things that you are not used to.

ALSO READ: Prison journalism: How to build a Snowman in prison

Survival Tactics for New Prisoners The most important thing to remember if you are about to go to prison is act like a hardcore prisoner in order to fit in and adapt so quickly it sounds strange, but gangsters can recognise so quickly if you are new in prison. Old gangsters don't like to intimidate other old prisoners because they are old already; they want the new arrivals. They can realise quickly through your eyes if you are scared of them so you should look tough and strong and act like you are not scared of anything because they are going to take what you have if they want it. The moment gangsters are satisfied with what they get from you they make sure they recruit you. Be always alert and don't trust anybody and be vigilant of who you call a friend, and it helps when you became friends with other old inmates who are non-gang members.

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ALSO READ: Prison journalism: The Homecoming

Negotiating Survival within the Cell Cells are extremely overcrowded, and you are basically at the mercy of the gang-leader in the cell. The best thing to do is to wait it out a bit to make sure you identify who is the boss in the cell there will be others running around serving him. Then approach cautiously and negotiate a deal; usually, if they leave you in peace, you'll make sure they get some cigarettes (prison's main currency ). Obviously, this can only work if you have money and a friend outside who can bring in the cigarettes. This often gets smuggled in through one of the officers again, it will take some time to detect which officer is open to bribes to bring this in for you of course, also at a price. Your friend can also legally pay in a small amount of money in your name, and on certain days (for example, every Wednesday), you are allowed to go to the canteen to buy things mostly candy or cigarettes are available.

ALSO READ: Prison journalism: Reflections from Inside Prison

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Navigating Gang Protocols for Safety The gangs have strict protocols, and for your safety, you should align with them without compromising your sanity or body. For example, when entering a cell already full of prisoners, you go and sit down just in front of the cell-door even if you see an open bed or cell-bunk. Wait till you get INVITED to approach. Do not TAKE ANY GIFT from anybody especially not in a crowded cell it is often a test to see how receptible you are. They believe very much in a favour for a favour. So, if you GOT something for free (like a cigarette), it's your turn to GIVE something for free. Rather do it the other way round YOU give for free, and so if they take your gift, they will know they owe you (unless they have already robbed you of what you had so hide what you have in very deep places, if you know what I mean).

FOR NOW I will make every effort to pull through. However, my feelings toward bed linger on. Nevertheless, to say, it has been some seasons that I am away from the lock-up, and my willpower is growing.

DISCLAIMER: Submission published as received

RESTORE is an NGO based in Cape Town, South Africa, providing inmates at Pollsmoor Prison with restorative justice opportunities.

If you have any questions you would like to ask our prison journalists, WhatsApp us on 060 011 0211.

Do you have contact with a prison inmate who would like to write for The South African website? If so, send an email to info@thesouthafrican.com or a WhatsApp to 060 011 0211.

You can also follow @TheSAnews on Twitter and The South African on Facebook to get the latest prison journalism articles.

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