Orange jumpsuits, the clanging of chains and sliding prison gates are things that Shona Allie, 66, experiences just about every week.
After spending years counselling prisoners, the experiences of this Rocklands resident will be documented in a biography being penned by author Heather Treadoux.
More than that, however, Ms Allie was reluctant to divulge at this stage.
Ms Allie, who heads Shona Allie Prison Ministry, started visiting prisons in 1995, when Pollsmoor’s prison chaplain, whom she only remembers as “Chaplain Van Rensberg”, asked her to counsel the prisoners, with a focus on why they are in prison and being a source of strength for them.
Ms Allie, whom the prisoners refer to as “Ma”, teaches the prisoners bible study and life skills and strives to teach them how to turn their lives around in prison and maintain a good lifestyle after they leave prison.
“When they are learning they tend to grow,” she said.
Recalling a meeting with one of her charges outside the confines of the prison, she told the Plainsman: “I was standing in church when I (realised I had forgotten) my hymn book at home. I asked the guy next to me if I could borrow his book and he said ‘Yes, Ma’, and I thought ‘That’s what the boys in prison call me’.
“I thought for a moment, (and asked him) ‘You were in prison?’”
And he replied, yes, he had been.
Ms Allie tells the men in prison that they should attend church if they could, and that’s what they did, although at the time she had not considered that they were actually taking her advice to heart.
“It warmed my heart to see him in church, and for that I was grateful and proud that I could make a difference.”
Ms Allie visits various prisons four times a week and everything she does, is done voluntarily. “I enjoy doing what I do for our community. Any person can end up in jail and I would like to be there for them as much as I can.”
She recalls having spoken to a 16-year-old boy who stole for his mother as the father had not been able to support them. “The boy wants to see his father so that they can spend time together again,” said Ms Allie. “His father was in and out of prison and the boy wanted to reach out to his father so that they could have a relationship again.”
Through her efforts to reach out to her son in prison, the boy’s mother made contact with Ms Allie who continued to counsel the boy and be the mediator between them.
“I receive many cases like these, where the family needs to be brought together through counselling.”
While most of Ms Allie’s visits are to Pollsmoor Prison, she has also visited prisons in Zimbabwe, Chilli, Peru, Madagascar, Bangkok, Brazil and New York. When she visited a prisoner in Peru, she was accompanied by Special Assignment reporter Anneliese Burgess who was covering a story on prisoners overseas.
During the time she has been a prison counsellor, Ms Allie has also met former President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace Mugabe as well as former South African president Thabo Mbeki.
She recently visited Shepherd Bush and Wormhood Scrubs prisons in England and leaves for England again in May to work with more prisoners.
Ms Allie is currently visiting a number of Correctional Services facilities, including those in Pretoria, Kroonstad, Bloemfontein, Durban-Westville, Umtata, East London, Fort Glamorgan and Port Elizabeth until the first week in April. Anyone who wants Ms Allie to visit family members in Correctional Services facilities in these towns, can call her on 072 658 9535 or 079 604 6358.