Sunday, May 21, 2017

How prisoners manage to maintain their dignity,humility and gentleness in the midst of such disgusting treatment from the wardens is astounding.

Today, Sunday 21 May 2017, I went to St Albans prison to visit Heinrich van Rooyen.  I have been a number of times and each time there is a different problem in getting to see him.  Either he is not called until the last minute, or we are sent from pillar to post but today I decided to tell it how it is.  The majority of wardens (everyone in prison calls them members, irrespective of how many pips they have on their lapels, which makes me laugh because another word for a penis is a member) are disgustingly uncooperative, speak to everyone, visitors included, with total disrespect, stand or sit together eating chips, smacking their lips together, sucking their fingers, chewing with their mouths open, playing on their mobile phones and shouting conversations to one another as though they are all deaf.    If you ask them for assistance you are told “Go sit and wait”.  Today, once we were in the area where visitors see prisoners, we were sent to sign in again with our ID books.  The wheelchair could not fit into the doorway. 
 So Patrick took our ID books and waited in line.  There were no wardens in sight … it was being run by the prisoners themselves.  He was told to go and wait with his wife (me).  While we were waiting, a warden sauntered up to us and told us to go and register with our ID’s.  We told them that we had been told to wait where we were.  She insisted that we go and register with our ID’s again.  By this time, Patrick was fuming.  He went back with the ID’s and was told to go back to his wife.  Another three female wardens with bright red lipstick and huge arses came and told us to go and register with our ID’s.  When Patrick told them we were going backwards and forwards they sat in a corner, ignored us and opened their crisp packets and started eating, having a long and loud conversation about us, thinking I would not understand.  One of the prisoners who happened to walk past me while Patrick was on his fourth trip to have our ID’s checked asked me who I was coming to visit.  I told him and he said he would call Heini for me.  Then I saw something that sent chills down my body – a group of prisoners shackled to one another carrying their belongings and being herded like animals past the visitor’s area.
The prisoners do the work.  The wardens walk around, eating, talking and playing on their cell phones or sitting doing sweet fuck all; and if they are female, they are constantly putting bright red lipstick on their lips.    They look stupid and they make themselves look more stupid than they are.    
At our last visit, Patrick lost it and told them that “I am not one of your fucking prisoners.  Get me the man in charge right now”.   It happened to be a woman, but even then, she did not call Heini.  Every time we have been to visit, a prisoner has been the one to call him for us. 
I can honestly say that the prisoners make the prison work, at least in Medium B.  The wardens walk around, feeding their faces and occasionally throwing their weight around in one direction or another just to make things difficult.  I have yet, after all my visits, seen a warden do any work, other than the Head of Medium B on my second visit to St Albans.
The prison is dirty, and in dire need of some paint.  The visitor’s area is a large room with a cement floor and a fibreglass roof.  There are rows of steel benches on which the prisoners sit on one and the visitor sits on the opposite bench ... with up to three prisoners and their visitors on one bench.  The benches last saw a coat of paint in the 90’s. 
What burns my arse is this:  It can take up to two hours to get to see your prisoner – and the visit is  one hour in Medium B.   The rules change every week, dependent on who is on duty.  But the eating, shouting, sitting and doing fuck all except smacking lips and playing on phones by the wardens never changes.    If the prisoners did not do the work, then no one would have a visitor.  These fat, lazy and paid prison wardens walk around like they are royalty, throwing a spanner in the works at every turn.  That is the only time they stop eating and shouting and playing on their phones … is to literally chase a visitor from one place to another.   Put a uniform on an arsehole and you have King Kong.  The Scottish say “Give a beggar a white horse and he will ride himself to hell”.   Same thing.   No one wants to complain for fear of the prisoner being victimized.  But enough is enough – and I am talking now.
This time, Heini’s uniform was just damp.  Last time it was wet – because he only has one uniform that fits him.  Prisoners are given uniforms that would fit the Michelin man, so they take them apart and sew them by hand to fit them properly. 
I asked Heini’s family to please email me photographs of his family.  Patient Patrick took them on a flash drive and had them printed out.  I wanted Heini to have something to put up on his cell wall that could remind him of his family.   I wish I had had a camera to capture the look on Heini’s face when I gave him the set of photographs.  His face lit up – with so much pride when he saw his boys and the longing he saw his parents.  Never have I seen such a bright, happy and astonished face – for something so small. 

I love being in Heini’s company – he is an amazing human being; so gentle, humble and polite. And he is funny – he makes me laugh.  I have met other prisoners during my visits and I would be unafraid to spend time alone with any of them.  How they have managed to maintain their dignity and humility and gentleness in the midst of such disgusting behaviour from the wardens is astounding.    Heini has counted the weeks since my last visit – 7 weeks.  I have been too ill.  My first visit to him was his first visit in 7 months.  How sad is that?