In the last session of our seven week Communities and Justice programme, today our group of 40 learners were provided with a chilling insight into life behind bars for convicted criminals during their tour of the Sun City correctional facility. Sun City was a name given in the prison’s early days, not because of any resemblance to the Las Vegas style resort but because of its transport arrangements for visitors whereby they were ‘shuttled’ to the relevant visiting areas in a similar arrangement to those visiting South Africa’s famed Sun City luxury casino and resort. While these transport arrangements no longer exist, the colloquial label remains. With 3500 inmates detained in numerous fortified blocks sprawled across manicured gardens and the extensive grounds nestled in the Johannesburg suburbs, it is the largest prison in the southern hemisphere. Shortly after entering the reception area it became apparent that our presence was seen as a novel distraction for many of the inmates who stared in an uncontrollable, friendly but nevertheless disconcerting fashion.
To ensure that we got a feel for life behind bars we were ushered into an empty ‘cell’ that later in the day would accommodate up to 150 inmates. Designed to hold 30 inmates, bunk style beds were squeezed into every available space, sometimes with a plank of wood stretched between the beds to provide an additional and valuable sleeping opportunity. Those not accommodated on the bunk beds would sleep on the floor and it was in this environment that our learners heard from our guest speakers, convicted rapists and murderers. The learners on entering the cell had shuffled nervously past the one toilet and shower for the use of all inmates. It was later explained that the wholly inadequate sanitary arrangements meant that relieving oneself during busy periods might involve the use of your hands or if available a plastic bag to carry the human waste. Quietly and carefully seated on the makeshift beds the learners listened intently to first-hand accounts of a convict’s existence behind bars. Recounted in stomach churning detail the guest speakers presented their experiences ensuring that none were spared the graphic detail of the violent and sometimes bestial nature of life in prison. Nor were the learners spared accounts of the brutal initiation that welcomed new inmates where they are systematically gang-raped while other inmates sing loudly to hide the screams of the unfortunate victims.
These accounts were later endorsed by the guards who admitted that these locked and overcrowded cells present a real danger to the single patrolling officer who is often powerless to intervene in what is happening behind the cell door. A reformed gang leader gave us an eloquent but grisly account of a drug smuggling operation that led to his arrest many years ago, it involved the murder of a large man injected with poisonous snake venom whose corpse was then disembowelled to allow for large quantities of drugs to be smuggled into South Africa from Brazil.
Our visit was to conclude with a light-hearted ‘crime doesn’t pay’ drama performance by a group of inmates following which our group of learners were encouraged to mingle with the cast in order to hear first-hand just why crime does not pay. We heard from a young man convicted for armed robbery, his smile punctuated by broken and missing teeth which along with his scars from 20 stab wounds were all administered during his first night in prison where he admitted fighting for hours upon end in order to defend himself. Now looking forward to release in 2 year’s time he has formed an NGO in readiness for life outside when he and a group of other inmates hope to engage with school children in order to convey and emphasise that ‘crime doesn’t pay’. If their oral accounts fail to convince then the sight of broken teeth along with the terrible scars borne across his torso should cause even the most cynical of teenagers to immediately desist from all anti-social behaviour.
©Safer South Africa Foundation
23 October 2013
Dr Tshenuwani Farisani was born and raised in Limpopo…Read More
Copyright © 2013
Safer South Africa Foundation
Brand management and design by Zimelka Knox : www.zimelkaknox.com