Former prisoners overcome struggles

The community was reminded of the struggles former prisoners continue to deal with. Some struggle to find their place in society and some encourage those around them with their stories on how they made it through prison.

Shona Allie, 67, from Rocklands is a mediator for families and inmates in prison. She would counsel them and encourage them to lead a better life in and out of prison.

They celebrated Human Rights Day on Thursday March 21 at Rocklands civic centre.

Mervin Daniel, 42, from Delft was in prison for 12 years and six months. He found it challenging to survive life on the outside, he said.

“I am more than an overcomer. When my wife left in 2008, it was a turning point in my life. I am originally from Kimberley and moved to Cape Town in 2010. I thought how was I going to live my life with a criminal record, when I was released from prison. Being a gangster, you’re only allowed to leave gangsterism by death, and this is the biggest lie told to our young people,” said Mr Daniel.

He got a permanent job in 2012, he said, after working and searching hard to find it.

“I did activities in prison to push time, attended classes, and all that. Our government fails us when we are released from prison, our criminal record follows us. I want to change, I want to go forward in life. I am starting my own business soon, recruiting those just like me, to help me, and to help themselves. Don’t give up hope,” said Mr Daniel.

Peter Koopman, 71, was in and out of jail for 10 years, from 1969 to 1979. Mr Koopman, who is originally from Rocklands and who lives in an old age home, received his first home in 1980 in Rocklands. He stayed in Mitchell’s Plain for 32 years.

At 14 he dropped out of primary school, and got involved with the wrong crowd. “I never received pocket money like my friends around me, and I wanted that. I looked for a way to make my own pocket money and joined a gang. We had no name, but we were a gang,” said Mr Koopman.

Mr Koopman would steal from wineries, selling wine cans to earn his pocket money, he said. When he was older, their gang found a safe at the wineries they would steal from, broke it open and took the money inside it.

Over the years, most of the gang members he hung out with, died. He is the only one still alive.

“When I was in prison I joined the 28s gang. I had been arrested again and taken to Pollsmoor Prison. I received word from the gang that they were sentencing me to death, as once you join the gang there is no way out but through death,” said Mr Koopman.

“I wasn’t sentenced to death by the state or the prison but through my gang members. When I came to prison again I told them I was part of the gang but not anymore, and for that I had to pay with my life.”

However, Mr Koopman said, his life was saved by what he could only be describe as divine intervention. He said twice as the gang members were preparing to take his life, for some inexplicable reason the deed was not carried out. He said as he was steeling himself for the end, he closed his eyes and prayed the Our Father. “When I opened my eyes, I realised that it was God’s purpose to have me alive,” said Mr Koopman.

Shona Allie, the founder of Shona Allie Prison Ministry South Africa, regularly visits Correctional Services facilities countrywide. For more about her ministry, call her on 072 658 9535 or 079 604 6358.