Drug mule’s pain at being parted from children
THE PAIN of being separated from her three children while behind bars still lingers, along with the stigma she bears, thanks to her criminal past.
Though she finished her jail term seven years ago, the Manenberg mother cannot hold back the tears as she recalls the time she spent without any contact with her children.
Recruited as a drug mule after separating from her husband, the 42year-old recalls being courted with money for clothes and food.
“I was going through tough times… I carried cocaine – 2kg to 3kg was hidden in my luggage at a time. They would redo the bag so when you opened it the drugs weren’t visible. If you take 1kg you have to swallow it and that gets mixed and measured again… even from that 1kg they make millions of rand,” she said.
The mother was attending a round table on the babies and children of women behind bars, hosted by crime prevention body Nicro. The woman is today part of the Prison Care and Support Network.
After travelling extensively, the woman was finally caught at Italy’s Milano Malpensa Airport on Good Friday in 2005. “It was so embarrassing and traumatic, and the first thing I thought of was who’s going to let my parents and children know,” she said.
It was still painful to think about what she put her children through.
“My kids may not have been in prison physically but emotionally they were in prison right there with me,” she said, recalling that she got the first letter from her family five weeks after her arrest, and only spoke to her children on the phone three months later. She was pardoned after the death of Pope John Paul ll and released after 18 months behind bars. Still, the scars linger.
She said some people were more cautious around her with their belongings, and her eldest daughter still suffered from depression.
Warning other women not to believe in the get-rich-quick option, she urged them to rather work hard for what they wanted in life.
Nicro’s Venessa Padayachee called the children of mothers in prison “invisible victims” who were left with “lasting scars”, including feelings of rejection and abandonment.
There was a huge stigma attached when people found out a child’s parent had been jailed, and the child in turn felt “ashamed”.
In August, Correctional Services Minister Sibusiso Ndebele said South Africa had 3 505 female offenders in prison, 980 of whom were remand detainees and 2 525 sentenced. Between January and March, the minister said, 282 mothers were incarcerated with their babies.
Padayachee said the children of jailed mothers were six times more likely to end up in prison themselves.
More research was required to explore the impact of a child’s imprisonment with its mother, as well as of forced separation once the child was removed from her care when they turned two. Nicro identified a case which saw the child of an inmate removed at the age of two, with the two seeing each other again only two years later. The result was that the relationship between mother and child broke down, creating further problems, including with foster parents. Another problem identified was of mothers who revealed they had babies only once they were behind bars, leaving the child at risk.
In 2009, the Imbeleko Project established Mother and Baby Units at female prisons across the country. The Western Cape has two, one at Pollsmoor Prison and one in Oudtshoorn, which is being renovated.
Statistics presented during the round table showed a steady decline in the number of babies born in prison – from a high of 22 in April 2011 to 16 in October this year.
When babies are separated from their mothers when they turn two, foster care is organised by state social workers and welfare organisations.
‘TRAUMATIC’: A woman talks about her experiences and the effect on her children while she was held in a prison in Italy for drug smuggling.