AIRTIME has become the new hard currency in South Africa’s prisons.
The Department of Correctional Services has struggled to deal with the increase in cellphone use by inmates.
Several prisoners said yesterday that inmates were using airtime as a bartering currency in the same manner as cigarettes were used.
It all depended on what you needed and what you were willing to part with, one inmate said.
According to the inmates, airtime can be used to buy groceries and drugs.
“If you have R29 airtime you can get two packets of cigarettes,” another inmate said. Airtime is easier to get into prison than cigarettes as it entails a simple message to family to send airtime. The relative buys the airtime and sends the pin to the inmate. This pin is then used to barter with inmates for other items. A prisoner said requests to family were for several small amounts instead of one large tranche of airtime. The more airtime you have, the better bargaining position you are in, another said.
“Prison is a place where we have a lot of time and we have nothing to do, so we are on the internet. I have experienced a lot since I have been here. I am on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and Whatsapp.”
Despite cellphones being on the contraband list, prisoners continuously find new ways of bringing the devices in.
In December, police and warders at Pretoria’s Kgosi Mampuru II prison, discovered dozens of memory sticks and three phones inside three milk cartons in controversial Czech businessman Radovan Krejcir’s cell.
Those assisting Krejcir took two condoms filled with water and placed them inside the carton. Wedged tightly between the condoms were the memory sticks and cellphones. The cartons were resealed.
“There are many ways to get a cellphone into prison.
The inmates who go to court and rob other prisoners in the holding cells wrap the cellphones in plastic, hide them on their bodies and come back and sell them to us,” one prisoner said.
Another prisoner confirmed the involvement of prison warders and said the department’s mechanisms to curb cellphone use were fruitless due to the involvement of corrupt officials.
“The systems they put in place to stop the smuggling of cellphones wont work if the prison warders don’t change.
“They are greedy and corrupt and it is easy to smuggle things into prison if you have money to pay them. It costs R250 for them to smuggle a cellphone into prison for you,” another inmate at the Johannesburg Central Prison said.