Young man, jail is living hell you must avoid

SOMEWHERE in the Vaal, where I live, there is a youngster whose ears I wanted to wring this week.

SOMEWHERE in the Vaal, where I live, there is a youngster whose ears I wanted to wring this week.

I write this in the hope that he will read it - and I hope he will because when I saw him he had a copy of a newspaper tucked under his arm. This laaitie, aged no more than 16 or so, was hanging outside the door of a shop, debating with his friend whether they should get in and steal I-don't-know-what.

The friend was reluctant to go in, saying the owner was suspicious, to which the fellow retorted bravely in a smokey voice: "If you're arrested you're arrested. Danyane is niks (jail is nothing)."

If you read this, my boy, I will relate to you the story of Bra Mgwazeni (not his real name), a behemoth of a thug I met for the first time when I did a story about prisons with late colleague Derrick Luthayi.

We were taken on a tour of the then department of prisons by a spokesman who wanted us to write that the apartheid government was doing wonderful things for black prisoners.

We got to a maximum security facility in the then Eastern Transvaal, and Derrick asked the prison commander if Mgwazeni was doing time there, and if we could see him. Apparently, Derrick had covered some of his trials eons ago.

While the impromptu visit was being organised Derrick found time to fill me in on the horrid crimes Mgwazeni had perpetrated. These included multiple murders, rape, armed robbery and assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm.

He had allegedly broken a man's neck and almost severed his head with his hands because he wanted the man's wife.

Moments later, Mgwazeni, seven foot tall, with sinews like baobab branches, was ushered in - escorted by a posse of nervous guards who were armed to the teeth.

His green eyes glowed as he shot out a massive arm to shake Derrick's hand. He had a sick, navy complexion, thin pink lips, fingers like jumbo cucumbers, and kept looking around the room like a hungry predator seconds before it strikes.

When he laughed he sounded like a tractor backfiring. There was an invisible collage of murder, rape and GBH written all over his face.

When Mgwazeni had been taken back to his cell and everybody was sighing with relief at surviving his brief appearance, we asked the prison head if he was (obviously) a section boss where he was held.

At that the prison chief and his warders burst into spontaneous laughter.

"This (Mgwazeni) thing is a woman. He is nothing here ."

My daughter reads this column so I am not at liberty to say what we were told got done to Mgwazeni by the bigger, rougher boys who longed for their lovers back home.

I shuddered when I thought what the "men" behind those prison bars looked like if Mgwazeni was a "woman".

Back to you my boy: In jail, Mgwazeni is a woman. You will be a chicken - and prisoners love chicken.