Pollsmoor prepares offenders for outside world

South Africa - Cape Town - 8 May 2019 - Goodwood Correctional Centre inmates vote in this years South African General Elections. Dressed in their orange overalls, excited to be casting their votes, they make their way through the voting process. A total of 73 inmates voted today. James Morris says, by voting i hope for better job opportunities when we leave prison. Picture: Courtney Africa/African News Agency(ANA)

Ex-con Mncedisi “Kingston” Mdingi hated the food in Pollsmoor Prison when he was there, but he ate it to stay strong, and he reminded himself he was still human and that life waited beyond the prison walls.

Mr Mdingi, who served 20 years for bank robbery before his release four years ago, sang gospel and spoke to Pollsmoor inmates, on Mandela Day, about what prison taught him.

Mr Mdingi had been invited to give inmates of the Medium-C facility a pep talk, preparing them for life beyond the bars.

The 650 inmates in Medium C are serving sentences of two years or less or are nearing the end of lengthier prison terms.

“You find that some offenders are in denial of what they
have done. Because they lied to the judge and said, ‘No I didn’t do it.’ Even after years here, they still don’t want to own up.
Medium C gives them the option of rehabilitation and restorative programmes through NGOs that help them heal and prepare to go out,” said Pollsmoor spokesperson, Lewies Davids.

In 2016, Mr Mdingi was paroled early for good behaviour, after serving 20 years of his 42-year sentence.

The Prison Care and Support Network Outreach Programme, an NGO that works closely with Medium C, asked him to speak to the inmates on Mandela

“I hated the food here. I used to think, no man, this is the food for animals, but I had to make the decision to eat it because it sustained me and I wanted to get out,” he told the inmates.
“When you get the food here, don’t worry about it, see it as a reminder that you do not belong here.”

Mr Mdingi said that growing up he had been influenced by the PAC and had seen the armed robberies he’d been part of as blows against apartheid and white “settlers”.

But it was a post-1994 robbery – at Wolsley First National Bank in 1997 – that he was arrested for.

He escaped during the trial but was caught 18 months later and handed his lengthy jail term.

“When people call you a murderer, a robber, a rapist, a racist, remember that you are a human. Remember who you are.
Remember that you have people outside of here that you need to look out for,” Mr Mdingi said.

He urged offenders to obey
officials, do their time and remember that change was possible for them no matter the circumstances.

Mr Mdingi is featured in the book, Light Through The Bars by Father Babychan Arackathara, a Catholic prison chaplain.

Mr Mdingi now runs a successful baked-goods business in Gugulethu. He completed his matric while in prison and is in his third year studying social work through Unisa.

Nina Richards, vice-chairperson of the Prison Care and
Support Network Outreach Programme, said that like Mr
Mandela and like Mdingi, prisoners had to let go of their anger and the past in order to heal and move on.

The organisation works, under the auspices of the
Catholic Church, with prisons all over the Western Cape. It runs spiritual-care programmes for inmates, ex-inmates and their families as well as 10-day restorative programmes for perpetrators and victims.