prison journalism-

Thabo Mthembu was incarcerated in Pollsmoor Correctional Centre from 2014 to 2019.
Image: Emiliano Bar

Prison stories: A day in the life of a Pollsmoor inmate

Fawaaz Adendorff was incarcerated at Pollsmoor Correctional Centre and participated in Restorative Justice while behind bars.

prison journalism-

Thabo Mthembu was incarcerated in Pollsmoor Correctional Centre from 2014 to 2019.
Image: Emiliano Bar

Starting from the reception, which is named the “cages”, it is where your time starts in prison, which prisoners call a world of its own.

So, in the reception, you come in handcuffed and placed in a cage with a board sign that states where you come from. It is also a place where you might find people that do not like you outside.


Two wardens will collect you at the cage for fingerprints and to register you into the prison system. From there, on your way to where you do your fingerprints, you hear different voices in the reception—strange languages and looks. The prison has a different type of smell. It is not a normal smell because, with the combination of the cleaning chemicals and tobacco smells, it is strong and also has an impact on your well-being as a newcomer, feeling nervous and scared, thinking about ways to escape or to make the wardens let you go. At that moment, you feel willing to do anything just to get out.

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From staying in the cages for a few hours where you did your fingerprints and also meeting with people from your neighborhood and all-around Cape Town, like different types of gangs and backgrounds, it is just so scary and it feels unreal, knowing you’re not going home soon and facing the unexpected. From the cages, the wardens open the gates of the cages one by one, calling you by name, surname, and jail number.

From there, the wardens then ask you to form one straight line on your knees with hands on your head. Once all the names are called out and all the inmates are present, sitting in one straight line, we are asked to stand up and follow the warden to a room where they undergo a body search before entering the courtroom section.

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It is a building with four big rooms and two small rooms for the warden’s office and storeroom. The four big rooms are for the inmates that are split into two different groups. One group is called the “ouens” [gang members] and the other group is called the “fraanse” [non gang members].

The two groups are being identified by the wardens for their prison gang/number and are placed in different rooms because the two groups cannot be together. Normally, bad things happen to the “fraanse” in the “ouens” room, like rape, robbery, abuse, and so much more.

After you are placed in a room, the wardens then bring two or more inmates called the “gang boys,” [aisle cleaners and assistants] helping wardens serve food to inmates and keep the prison section clean as part of their job description in prison.

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Then, the “gang boys” give out your plates. You get your food in what’s called a laptop, with a small plastic spoon and a plastic cup. From their one room, it is opened, and the inmates are asked to sit down in a straight line against the wall, facing their room with the laptop in their hand, with the cup and spoon.

For me, there is no favorite food because they use the same spice for all the meals they serve to the inmates. In the juvenile center section A, the wardens dish out most of the meats for themselves and take them home with them.

There are two meals per day: breakfast is served in the morning at 08:00, then locked up again until our next meal. We will be lucky if we get an hour of exercise, depending on the prison vibe and weather. Our breakfast is sometimes served with boiled eggs and three slices of bread and tea without sugar. Then we wait until 12:00 to get our last meal, which is sometimes chicken or beef, brace with veg and mielies. Sometimes white, sometimes spicy yellow. But all the meals that are served are in very small portions like we would get a bone with a piece of meat with little gravy, and it does not taste good.”

DISCLAIMER: To note, the above submission was published as received

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