MAKING SENSE OF THE PRISON SYSTEM
If there is any tangible evidence that the prison system in this country is working for the inmates, while at the same time failing the victims, one needs to look no further than Mzwandile Matiwane. Having written most of the poems in his anthology, i lost a poem, while doing time at St Albans Medium Prison (Eastern Cape) for robbery, this beautiful anthology transcends chains and relegates to make-believe everything you've seen in Oz. However, i lost a poem is not short of such depictions, even though Matiwane deliberately toned down the goriness of the violence. "I started to calculate seconds/ on that cold cement floor/ cuffed hands and feet/ until I became content/ I had clots of blood on my face/ courtesy of their kicks and klaps/ but I chose not to cry/ for they could not crack a comrade kid" he writes in 'Countdown'.
Tupac Shakur once said about prison life that it's when you realise that 'even thugs get lonely'. Matiwane experienced it first hand. His book is sincere, far from the sex laced scary propositions he wrote before and allowed them to pass off as poetry, while in fact they were diary entries of a twisted mind. Cries of a horny man whose prowess has been caged. In prison he got too lonely, "lying there in the dark/ doors and windows open/ listening, smoking/ deeper and deeper"- (Melancholy)
In a poem titled 'Robber's Confession' Matiwane is brave enough to tell why he did the robbery. He made the most of a bad situation. He didn't sit back waiting for his parole hearing, but did something us out of prison do not even dream of doing, bringing out our own anthologies of poetry.
He also bears testimony to the corrupt nature of the prison system. In a conversation we had he confessed that his sanity was maintained by a regular supply of dagga joints that the warders provided. Even though the warders couldn't help Small, an inmate who died in the Prison hospital in 2002 of AIDS. "It was after twelve midnight…/they came with a knife made out of steel spoon…/ they undressed me…/ and penetrated my anus-hole/ as they pounded over me/ torment filled my soul…/ after what felt like eternity/ trembling/ I got up and dressed/ one of them said, 'speak of this to anyone, then you die boy'/ that's all he told me/ lying there on that bed/ ready to meet his Maker", (In the last flicker of light).
Another flicker of light shows that Matiwane is a highly romantic man, though not soapy, "you once called me/ angel eyes of the wind/ with the deep melody of your voice/ whose blood has ceased to be- /strange, though/ I no longer grieve for you/ but/ I still find the tone of your voice/ that keeps telling me/ I'm alone" (Angel Eyes of the Wind)
I have no doubt in my mind that i lost a poem stands a good chance of being prescribed for schools. Its honesty is disarming, its muffed expressions humbling and its size, a good 56 pages, hiding 57 cries for help from Prisoner 95595305- Mzwandile Matiwane, appealing.
The book is distributed by University of Natal Press and is available in bookstores. i lost a poem is dedicated to Matiwane's ex teacher Ms Buyelwa Sonjica.