I had to give birth to my sec­ond child in jail


Marie Claire (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - AS TOLD TO CHANA BOUCHER

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.

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