Monday, March 6, 2017

My Visit to a Serial Killer

I saw Heini (Heinrich van Rooyen) yesterday.  It was a very long day with only a short visit.  Everything went smoothly as we had already asked permission for Patrick to drive me to Medium B instead of waiting for prison transport from the gate.  We registered at the office and drove through the gates.  I got into the wheelchair to negotiate around the open trench where drains are being laid.  Like the rest of South Africa, this construction has been going on for some time.  At least at this visit, it was dry…the last visit we were slipping and sliding our way through mud.
There were no wardens to check packets and ask for the permission tickets, and there was no one around to say we could enter the visitors area so Patrick left me at the little make-shift prison shop while he went to tell some person in authority that I was waiting to see Heinrich.   His furlough into the depths of the prison ended up in a passage where he found numerous wardens eating and talking at full blast levels. 
He asked for Heinrich to be called for his visit and he was told “Go sit there.  We will attend to you later”.  Of course this was said with the greatest disdain for an ordinary mortal who was not one of the elite group that controlled prisoners.  That sent the bejesus up Patrick and he stomped off to find a warden who had more pips on their shoulders.
Finding one, he said, “Listen, you are the one with the authority here.  You had better sort out your staff.  I am not one of your prisoners and I will not be treated like one of them.  My wife has been waiting to see Heinrich van Rooyen.  My wife is terminal.  Time is of the essence.  She was even ill on the way to get to the prison.  Your staff are sitting and eating and I was told to wait? !!!”  He was angry. 
I waited so long that even the shop stewards went three times to the wardens to ask for Heini to be called.   He eventually arrived after I had been sitting in the visitors area for almost two hours.  I had forgotten to take water and I was feeling dreadful.  My pain injection was over-due but I could not get out to the vehicle to give myself my injection.   Patrick was sitting in the vehicle outside with our puppy and I could not get a message to him to bring me what I needed because you may not take a mobile phone in with you and prisoners can’t walk out the gates.  I was stuck until Heini arrived. Every time I see that boy, my heart goes out to him and I realize that I have grown to love him.  He is like a little brother to me and I will do anything for him.  This is not a psychological issue like when women fall in love with death row or life prisoners.  This is simple and pure compassionate and unconditional love for someone that I would have been proud to call my DNA brother.   I was rather upset because it cut my visiting time with him down, and so was Heini. We did wonder what the hold-up had been, and we both think it is because Patrick gave them hell.  How else can the wardens “get you back” but by making you wait and not calling the prisoner.  So I did not stay the hour that I would have liked to but we spoke fast and much was said without talking as well.
“You know Heini, when I look at you and how I have got to know you, you could not kill a fly”
“Hahaha, I can kill flies, but I can’t kill a chicken”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, my mom would ask me to kill a chicken to cook and I just could not do it.  Funky had to always do it.   One day, I tried.  I had that chicken, one hand on the body and the other on the neck.  It turned its head and looked straight at me”
I started laughing, imagining this young man who is serving life for the murder of two women, not being able to kill a chicken.  We both were laughing so much that the rest of the story came out in bits of sentences and words.
“That chicken knew it was going to die. Jinna, I let it go so quickly”, he said in between laughing. 
“Ja, and when its head is off it still runs around”, I said laughing.
“...there is no way I can kill a chicken and watch it running around with no head, blood squirting everywhere.  Ja, Funky had to do that kind of thing”.
“What are you two laughing so much about?” asked Henco Barnard, one of the shop stewards with beautiful blue eyes.  I had seen two people with eyes the colour of the sea on a calm day in that visitor’s room.  The other person was a warden. I told the warden he had beautiful eyes.  I mean, if you can’t say something nice to someone, then don’t say it at all. 
“You know what Heini” I said.  If I was 30 years younger, I would want to see what is in this broeks, I said laughing.  That elicited another howl of laughter from the two of us, imagining me saying that to a warden.
“Oh, Dianne, stop now …”
Another warden leaned closer to hear the answer better. 
“If you lose your sense of humour, you may as well be dead”, I said.  “Laughter is the sound of resilience”.
“Aha, you right”, both prisoner and warden responded.
Our visit was a 30 minute session of laughter – from one subject to another. 
There was a moment of silence.  “Yep”, I said.  That penis of yours got you into trouble and landed you here”  
Heini’s face become sombre and he looked up and me and said “I do not like the person I was.  I was not faithful and I slept around”
“Don’t beat yourself up about it Heini.  It is something that a lot of young men do.  You are not unique.  Did you ever watch the movie, Zorba, the Greek”, I asked.
He shook his head.  “Well, Zorba said that if a woman asks a man to his bed and he will not go, it is a sin that God will not forgive”, I said laughing.  His mood lifted.   He has a face that shows every emotion.  He can hide nothing.  He is an open book … his thoughts and mood easily read by anyone with an iota of humanity.
“I have to go now Heini”, I said, putting my arms up to give him a hug.  I don’t care that there are notices all around the visitors room saying “No touching”.  It may have been a five second hug, but it conveyed a million years of emotion.  He pushed me out until a warden took over.

I always cry when I leave him behind.  My heart aches for the person who is serving time for a crime he did not commit.  
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