A gorgeously warm and sunny day in the middle of Cape Town’s grey and rainy winter signalled an important day for over 40 inmates at Malmesbury Medium A prison. These inmates were soon-to-be graduates from Sonke’s prisons Peer Educator training programme.
Over 70 inmates and DCS officials gathered in a large hall ready for a morning of congratulations, entertainment and encouragement. After the MC, one of the Peer Educator graduates, introduced the proceedings and welcomed everyone, the band – inmates on guitar, bass, drums, keys and vocals – kicked off the day with some lively tunes.
An inmate read a poem about HIV, with the line “One man can make a difference to the man next to him.” A trio performed classic gospel tunes before Sonke’s senior trainer SK took the stage as the keynote speaker. He began with the One Man Can song: “One man wants to teach equality”. The room lit up with everyone’s singing, and SK was joined by the band on bass, piano and drums. The rich warm sounds filled the room and set a tone of solidarity and focus before SK’s speech.
Even though inmates deal mostly with other men when behind bars, SK put it to the crowd that patriarchy affects men even inside prison. “Patriarchy is not only about men and women. It is also about men and men, men and children. It is about the power that men have and use to get what they want, even at the cost of someone else’s rights. When you force your wife to sleep with you without her consent, that’s part of the patriarchal system. Sexual violence in prison is part of the patriarchal system; when those who have power take away the rights of the powerless.”
But the main message of the day was that going through the Peer Educator training is not a free ticket to parole, but a real responsibility to the community. There is the perception that many inmates enrol in programmes only because they want to score points with parole officers and get out of prison for displaying good behaviour and involvement. SK stressed that it was not the case this time. He encouraged the graduates to share their knowledge about HIV, sexual abuse and human rights with fellow inmates. After the MC thanked SK for his speech and the training programme, a choir entertained the crowd with a few more numbers, and the graduates then received their certificates.
The DCS official working with Sonke throughout the training closed the day’s event with a vote of thanks, thanking all involved for their participation, work and dedication to their community.
Sonke’s prisons team have committed to visiting this group of Peer Educators monthly, to support them in their journey of making Malmesbury Medium A a safer and healthier place to be.
Under the mandates of ensuring access to human rights, and reducing the spread and impact of HIV, Sonke works inside South African Correctional Centres to reduce sexual violence and the spread of HIV in prison.