I had to give birth to my second child in jail
ANDREA PENROSE DESCRIBES HOW BAD DECISIONS LED TO HER LIVING A LIFE FAR FROM ANYTHING SHE EVER IMAGINED
Shackled to a bed in a public hospital, in pain, with only an unsympathetic prison guard and a midwife by my side: it’s not how I pictured myself giving birth to my son. The hospital was filthy, the toilets were covered in blood, and used sanitary pads covered the floor. I was looking forward to going back to Sun City – not the holiday resort – Jo’burg’s maximum security prison. It’s where I was serving my 10-month prison sentence for a fraud conviction.
In my mind what happened to me didn’t happen to people with my background. I had a decent upbringing, my father was wealthy and my mother a good provider.But when they divorced, my mom and I moved to Jo’burg. After studying travel and tourism, I landed a job as a consultant at a travel company. I loved it and worked my way up until I was appointed inland implementation manager. One of my responsibilities was recruiting staff to work as in-house consultants for our corporate clients. During that time, I met my ex-husband. Our relationship was great until he became physically and emotionally abusive. He often just sat at home all day smoking weed.
I thought things would improve if I married him and gave him a child, but his attitude only worsened. When our daughter was two years old, I left him after he punched me in the face. From that day he was no longer part of my life but I still had to stand trial with him for two years for a crime we committed together. He had started a recruitment agency and my employer was his main client. I was receiving hundreds of CVs and would often give them to him to see if he could find jobs for them. On occasion I would need to fill a position and would pick from the CVs I had given him. We then told my company the candidate was recruited by my ex-husband’s company, and charged them a recruitment fee.
When an investigation was carried out I was charged with defrauding my company out of R100 000. The forensic investigator warned me that, if found guilty, I’d go to jail and my daughter (then only six weeks old) would go to foster care. I denied the charge outright. A year into the trial I reconnected with an old school friend. Our relationship grew and while living together I fell pregnant with his baby. I was then found guilty of fraud and, on the day of sentencing, I dropped my daughter off at my mom’s house and told her I would see her later. ‘Later’ turned out to be almost a year afterwards. I was sentenced to five years’ correctional supervision and a minimum of 10 months’ incarceration.
The humiliation started when I arrived at the prison. They took all my belongings and I was strip-searched in front of about 30 other inmates; they even did a cavity search.
Because I was six months pregnant I was locked up in the maternity section of the prison where I shared a cell with 16 other women. We just sat around and talked to each other all day.There was never any peace; the lights were on from 5am to 10pm and I was too scared to sleep for the first few nights. Even though I was pregnant I lost 29kg. Prenatal check-ups at the public hospital were equally demeaning because I would have to walk through in my prison uniform, handcuffs and leg irons. On the day I was scheduled to have a Caesarean, I was taken to another public hospital but put at the back of the queue as more pressing emergencies came in. After four days of no water or food because I was expecting to go into theatre, I collapsed. It was now too late to have the C-section. Luckily I had an easy birth, it just took two pushes and he was out. We went back to the prison the next day and my son shared my bed until the day I was released. I hadn’t seen my daughter because I didn’t want her to visit me in prison. She thought I was at work. We spoke on the phone once a week except when she didn’t want to talk to me. When I arrived at my mom’s house, which was to become my home while under house arrest, my daughter threw her arms around me and said: ‘I’m so happy you are home. I missed you so much.’ In that instant she forgave me and all was forgotten.
I have remarried (that old school friend) but I am open about my past. I’m done with secrets. I speak about fraud and my experience at events to help others avoid making the mistakes I made. I was hired by someone who heard one of my talks and offered me a position at their travel company. My parole conditions allow me to go to work during the week; I just have to be home by 9pm and I may not leave Gauteng without permission. At first I was angry, but I was also ashamed and had to deal with the embarrassment that my family was also facing. Over time, though, I’ve realised they had served every day of my sentence with me too. And I have also learnt forgiveness, acceptance and tolerance.
Andrea with her second husband, embracing life, post-prison.