JOURNALISM | TALE OF A 26 | IVOR’S TIME IN CAPE TOWN’S PRISONS

A tall, confident and well-mannered man with bright eyes and unique attire walked into the restaurant. You’d pick him out of a crowd, but only for his suave confidence. Ivor will turn thirty-two in August but has the youthful spirit of a teenage boy. Perhaps because most of his youth was spent in jail.

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RAISED IN GRABOUW
Ivor grew up in Grabouw in the Western Cape; a small, quiet town in the heart of the Elgin Valley, known for growing apples and not much else.He enjoyed going to school and getting up to mischief with his teenage peers and had a typical upbringing for the area in which he lived; except for one difference: From the age of sixteen to twenty-one, critical years for social development in any youngster, Ivor was in prison.

Ivor is the middle brother of three and has two, much older sisters. His hometown was no stranger to fatherless households though Ivor always viewed his situation differently. His father didn’t choose to leave him; his father died in a fire when Ivor as three. That remains an important distinction for him: “My father didn’t walk out on me, he had no choice”.

Ivor’s older brother, Dion, left school to take care of the younger children while his mother spent most of her time working as the sole provider. Dion, ten or fifteen years older than Ivor, was a tough man made hard by life in Grabouw. “If I tell you he was monster, that’s a real understatement,” says Ivor. Dion would wander the streets looking for trouble only to stumble home after a long night and beat his family. He’d return drunk, smashing out every window and wheeling burning tires through the house while the family slept, almost setting fire to neighbouring houses in the process. Ivor recalls being stung by a bee while playing outside one summer afternoon and his brother beating him senselessly because of it. And on Christmas day Dion bit off a piece of his wife’s ear in a rage. “I don’t know what made him so angry”, says Ivor. “I can only assume it was the loss of our father.”

The relationship between Ivor and Dion was fraught with tension and Ivor felt powerless. “The police were forever at our house looking for him,” says Ivor, rolling his eyes.

In 1995, while still in primary school, Ivor’s younger brother stole R100 from his mother’s purse. Dion insisted that Ivor skip school that day to help find their younger brother. They did. There was an old bathtub at the back of the house and, under Dion’s instruction, they stripped their brother, filled the bathtub and beat him up in it. Those are the only memories of Dion that really stick out for Ivor – ones of anger and greed and abuse. “You’ll hear as the story unfolds, we had a terrible, terrible, broken relationship,” he says.

When Ivor was just beginning high school in 1998, his mother moved into an RDP house in the Grabouw area, not far from his childhood home. At this time, Dion had taken to drugs and become part of a street gang. He’d been married, divorced and had kids. He’d frequently visit the house, drunk and looking for food or money, waking the family late at night. Sometimes Ivor, his mother and brother would stay with Ivor’s older sister to find respite; other times it was because Dion kicked them out. Dion would locate them, apologise, make peace and begin the cycle over again.

Through the months of intermittent chaos from Dion, Ivor was still attending school with his younger brother and doing well. “We weren’t stupid kids at school. There was always a future for us,” says Ivor. He enjoyed school and was rarely absent.

Ivor had always wanted to become a doctor, for the pure and simple goal of making a life for his mother and family. “Where I come from, if you become a doctor, that’s the ultimate; then you’re rich.”

In 2000, Ivor’s younger brother got caught breaking into their high school and was sent to a reformatory school. “Like a Boys Town kind of thing,” says Ivor. He came back home sporting new tattoos on his legs. Late one night, Dion came home drunk, caught a glimpse of the tattoos and saw red. He held the boy down, hovered a plastic packet over his tattoos, held a lighter to the bag and let melted plastic drops slowly scorch and deform his inked skin. Dion locked the door, keeping Ivor and his mother inside to ensure they watched as he made an example of the youngest child.

FOREVER NO GANGSTERS
This incident was the last straw for Ivor and as soon as he could, he moved out of his mom’s house and onto the street. He befriended a group of young men under similar circumstances to his: from divorced families, broken homes and runaways. They found comfort in each other and looked out for one another.  They lived on the streets getting up to mischievous fun. The group shared their first cigarettes, first joints, and even first burglary together. At sixteen, Ivor would become a father for the first time, too.

The group didn’t consider themselves a gang; though Ivor admits from the outside, they probably looked like one. They had a slogan and an older, more experienced ‘leader’ named Romeo at whose home the boys would often spend their time. The boys stole from houses together and would either pocket the loot from selling what they stole or pool it all together and give it to Romeo. There was no real formula to how they’d split the money but there was a silent agreement that Romeo would take care of the boys, therefore Romeo would take the majority share. He’d buy vegetables and proper food for them, give them spending money and keep a roof over their heads. “We were in charge,” recalls Ivor. “No one gave us money or told us what we can’t wear. We bought the things we had.” Ivor and his crew knew full well what they were doing was wrong but for them it trumped going home and getting beaten, feeling powerless to change the situation for their families.

“We didn’t have a name. All the gangs back then were defined by their names,” says Ivor. The Americans, Junky Funky Kids, Money Lovers and The Firm are four prominent street gangs operating in the Western Cape. Ivor and his friends didn’t want to be defined by association with them or any other ‘gang’. To get the crowd in good spirits Romeo would sometimes shoot a couple of rounds in the air and chant “We just have a nice time; we’re forever no gangsters”. This would become a slogan for the group.

Together they assaulted people on the street, taking their phones and wallets. They stole from people’s homes and smashed through car windows, taking whatever may be valuable. Five men working together; into the kitchen, on to the lounge, in the bedrooms and under the bed, they’d scour the house in less than an hour. They fill up a duvet cover and sheet with quick-sell items and lug them out of the house on foot.

Ivor’s group had one gun shared between all of them. It was a lousy .38 calibre handgun that had been tossed on a fire by a previous owner on the run from the police. Someone had taped bright red electrical tape to repair the handle: “I don’t know why we chose red because that made it look fake!” says Ivor, laughing and shaking his head. “But that gave us a bit of power to rob people on the street.” The group would wear masks to conceal their identities, though one evening Ivor and his friends cornered a group of guys and girls going into a club in Cape Town: “I said ‘Empty your pockets, empty your pockets!’ One of the women in the group was in school with me and recognised my voice. ‘Ivor? Is that you?’ she said. So we just let them pass.”

This, for Ivor, was much better than being pushed around and beaten at home. Now he was in charge. “The way we formed a group was simply because we shared our suffering. Our suffering pushed us to the street and brought us together.”

MONEY FOR MANDRAX
Later, a little older and with more experience on the street, Ivor, like his friends, took to Mandrax – one of a few drugs available in Grabouw. The main goal of any robbery was to come out with money for Mandrax, clothes and alcohol. Ivor was hooked on the rush of the experience and for him, that’s what it was all about. The money and goods were second prize to the feeling of being vulnerable and powerful at the same time. “Something can go wrong at any moment but I’m calm and I want to be in it,” he says.

They’d sell the stolen goods to drug merchants in the area. The merchants wouldn’t only remunerate with cash: “Maybe thirty Mandrax pills and a thousand bucks,” says Ivor with a shrug. It cut out the middleman because they intended to spend the bounty on drugs anyway.

Mandrax is taken in what’s called a button-pipe or smoked through a bottleneck. “Or you sprinkle some of the Mandrax over a joint of weed and smoke that,” says Ivor between sips of his Coke. “Ah, Mandrax puts you in such a calming relaxed mode. Everything’s okay with the world. You don’t have enemies, you don’t have any of your problems; you’re so chilled.”

With a smile, Ivor recalls breaking into an indoor cricket and arcade game centre. It was one of the biggest robberies they’d pulled at the time. Shuffling his feet and looking down, Ivor says: “All we were trying to do is make a life and just try have a good time.”

WRONGFULLY ARRESTED
One afternoon, Dion and his youngest brother were hanging out together. They bumped into Romeo on the street and ended up in conflict with him. They robbed and stabbed him, took his money and his clothes. “That was the beginning of the end,” says Ivor. Romeo survived the attack but spent a couple of days in hospital being treated for his wounds.

Dion lived in a shack at the back of someone’s garden. That same night, Ivor and a bunch of friends set fire to his shack. Dion narrowly escaped the blaze.

A couple of weeks later on a Saturday night, Ivor and some friends were sitting at their usual hangout spot around a fire at the back of a Church parking lot. They enjoyed spending time in this spot and the boys felt safe here – the parking lot was well-lit with a clear view of the roads leading left and right. Drugged and drunk, Dion and a friend staggered up one of the roads into the group and began stirring trouble; waving a knife around the circle, throwing threats and looking to even the score. Romeo, now recovered, shot a few rounds from the red-handled .38 and scared the pair off.

That Sunday while Ivor and his friends were enjoying a few drinks at a nearby  Shebeen, Dion arrived seeking vengeance – this time with backup. The group broke out into a frenzy of knife-swipes and machete hacks. And then: “My friend and I…we shot him,” says Ivor. Dion was walking away from him and the gun went off. He died in hospital that Wednesday night. Ivor admits he didn’t feel any remorse or sadness. “I had built a thick wall of hatred over my heart for him.” He was simply relieved that he and his family no longer had to endure Dion’s abuse. “We actually opened up a bottle of Three Ships whiskey and celebrated his death.” A couple of days later, Romeo was arrested for Dion’s murder.

IVOR IDENTIFIED
A few weeks after Romeo was locked up, Ivor and two friends entered a house while the homeowner was still asleep inside. They held her at gunpoint and took her TV and other belongings. Later that year, the homeowner recognised Ivor in a lineup and he was arrested for the break-in. His fingerprints were found at that scene and later linked to another case of robbery in the area. He was sixteen years old.

Ivor was collectively sentenced to six years and six months in prison for the burglary charges. His brother’s murder was never linked to him. “That’s one of the biggest benefits to being in a gang or whatever you call it; if you get caught for something you sit for it, no matter how many other people were involved, you take the responsibility and the rest of the group is there to support you and see you through it. That’s what Romeo did.”

Ivor was first sent to Caledon Prison, the closest prison for juveniles to Grabouw. He then moved to Drakenstein in Paarl and then Brandvlei and finally into the adult section in Brandvlei. It’s much easier to move prisons as a juvenile prisoner than as an adult. “Back in those days as a Juvenile, you just used the excuse ‘I want to finish my school’ [and] they will send you wherever you want to go,” says Ivor. Ivor finished matric in prison, but not before becoming an official member of the 26 gang.

ROOM NUMBER 7
There’s no section for under-18s in Brandvlei, so Ivor was placed in solitary until he turned eighteen – a total of about twenty months. He was in his cell for twenty-three hours of every day. He had his own toilet, basin and small washing line. He could go to the orderly or prison doctor when he needed to. “You’d just say ‘I need to get my medication’ for an excuse to walk around,” remembers Ivor.

At first it was difficult. Ivor says he enjoys being around people and socialising. Even today Ivor will say he feels uncomfortable when he’s alone. “So many of the guys would set their mattress on fire or cover every hole in the cell, open the taps and flood it – just so they could get out of the single cell and join the others,” says Ivor, shifting in his chair. The lights are on twenty-four hours a day and you’re monitored constantly.”

Ivor read a lot of books, tried to keep fit and listened to music to pass the time. In each solitary room, there would be a speaker playing music. At around 9pm every night, the warders would turn down the speakers in the communal cells and crank up the sound through the single-cell speakers “For no reason at all…to mess with your head I think,” says Ivor, frowning. “That’s where I realised there’s no escape from yourself. You have to deal with all the questions and regret that come up.”

Ivor would hear the same radio playlist repeat three or four times a day. He would listen to the words and write down the lyrics to the ones he enjoyed most. He kept an A4 blue-lined notebook that belonged to a warder. In it he wrote his poems, song lyrics, letters and inspirational notes to himself and loved ones.

I asked Ivor what songs he remembers from his time. He smiles coyly and begins to sing in perfect pitch: “Close your eyes; give me your hand, darling…:‘Eternal Flame’ – every time I hear that song it takes me back to my room. Solitary room Number Seven. A corner room, isolated from the rest of them.”

GUILTY BY ASSOCIATION
In 2003, the day Ivor turned eighteen, he requested to be moved from solitary so he could join his friends and fellow gang members. Later, he asked for a transfer to from Drakenstein to Brandvlei. He heard they had a pretty good school system and had hoped to take a break from the gang activity to get more involved in school. The numbers gangs aren’t as active in Brandvlei. In Drakenstein there are young men under twenty-one with up to 100 years or three life sentences. They have nothing to lose and are generally feared. So when Ivor came from Drakenstein to Brandvlei, he already had something of a dangerous reputation. He was well respected and feared. This is what prison thrives on: fear and respect. A lock in a sock or the end of a shoe-lace is used to settle any dispute.

Ivor wanted to study and work within the system to get out sooner. Resisting the prison process and getting too involved in the gangs will only buy a prisoner more time. “Your gang becomes your family, what you live for,” says Ivor, “and that can be very dangerous if you ever hope to get out.” The battle between willpower and social pressure is an age-old story and Ivor didn’t always win.

Ivor knew a few prisoners in Brandvlei and spent most of his time with them. One evening, a few members in Ivor’s circle raped another young man in the prison. “I can promise you, I did not rape that boy,” insists Ivor. But Ivor was found guilty by association and punished for the crime. After making the choice to focus on studying and shy away from gang-related activities, Ivor found himself in solitary confinement again; trapped inside his head for twenty-three hours every day.  He was released from solitary after a few months, but the experience set him back in his mind. He felt angry and got right back into making a name for himself in the 26 gang.

HISTORY BY NUMBERS
Ivor had some respectable work while at prison but didn’t manage to hold down a job. He worked distributing prison medication – dangerous work as the prisoners get to handle the pills and blades. Ivor was caught stealing drugs and was no longer allowed to work at that station. He also worked in the kitchen just before the rape accusation, but lost his position there too. In the time Ivor spent in Drakenstein and Brandvlei, his younger brother had been in and out of prison twice for robbery. By his second visit to Brandvlei prison, his brother had joined the 28s gang; rival to his older brother’s 26s.

There are three gangs in Prison; 26s, 27s and 28s. Ivor is unsure if these gangs run only in Cape Town or if they’re spread around South Africa, but insists he hasn’t met any member of these particular gangs outside of the Western Cape.

Gangs bring structure to the prisons. According to gang mythology, the history of these gangs goes back to 1812. “We don’t know if that is true but that’s the history and each gang must know their history,” says Ivor. There are three significant dates in the gangs’ history: 1812, 1824, 1836 and the stories around them change over time and depending on which gang is telling it.

It’s rumoured the 26s, 27s and 28s all originate from bands of fugitives that plagued late 19th and early 20th-century Johannesburg. The Number gangs were chiefly inspired by one bandit in particular, Nongoloza Mathebula, and his band of quasi-military outlaws. Some might remember him as an African version of Robin Hood, taking from the victors of South Africa’s colonial order and giving to the downtrodden.

The soul impetus of a 26 gang member is money. A 27s focus is drawing blood; particularly from a prison warder – a sure way to climb the ranks as a 27 member. There are two lines of the 28s – those that choose to climb the ranks by sodomising other prisoners and those who choose to stab warders. According to Ivor, the 26s and 28s don’t get along and their animosity frequently descends into violence.

The 26 gang has a strict member’s policy and don’t allow anyone to join their gang who has been raped or labelled a ‘wyfie’ (‘wifey’) or a snitch, or has any physical defects like one eye, or missing toes. One should be in good health and well-groomed to find a place in the 26s; willing and able to fight for one’s camp. 28s show no discrimination, a contributing factor as to why it’s the largest prison gang in South Africa.

There are signs for each gang: 26 is two thumbs up, 27 is thumbs up and index fingers pointing toward the horizon and 28 is thumbs up, index and middle finger together and pointing forward. There is a slight distinction in the two signs for the sections of the 28s. The sodomy 28s hold their index and middle fingers together when holding up their signs and the blood 28s hold them apart.

GOT INK?
Ivor had a small “26” tattoo that he covered up with a leafy clover right before his recent betrothal. He still sports a large two on his right shoulder and six on his left, saying “Sun” and “Rise” under each number respectively.  He also sports a ‘deformed’ marijuana leaf on his right shoulder and a less unsightly nickname “spawn” on his arm.

The prison tattoo artist will begin with a staple and open it so it’s spread flat. They’ll burn the end so it’s piping hot, insert it into the handle of a toothbrush and sharpen the point of the staple. The ink is derived from melting black plastic rubber bracelets, worn by everyone under twenty-five as a fashion statement in the early 2000s. The process is “kak sore” says Ivor, and takes an extremely long time. “Ninja from Die Antwoord always reminds me of a 28; their tattoos are always these big ugly random things,” says Ivor, grinning.

26s would rarely have tattoos and every piece was, to Ivor, a work of art and generally subtle. Gang numbers and nicknames are the most common tattoos in Cape Town prisons. Dollar signs or coins with the sun strokes shining out the top are popular 26 gang tattoos. Another favourite is two knives with their points sticking upward and the number 26 on top. The 28s would have the same knife formation only the knives would point down.

Ivor says with uncontrollable laughter there are a lot of typos that happen with prison tattoos and it’s a bit of a risk getting tattooed in jail. Anyone who claims to be good can get the job, it’s up to you to trust them.

There’s one very popular phrase to tattoo, which rings true for so many of the prisoners, says Ivor: “I broke my mother’s heart to please my friends”.

STRICT SOCIAL ORDER
A typical prison room is divided into three parts: Sets of bunk beds on the left and on the right and in the centre there is a passage serving as common ground and a place for agreements between gangs to take place.

It’s the 26s job to find out when the newcomers are arriving and the 28s job to announce his presence in the room with a one-time shotgun, meaning they stamp their right feet once, at the same time loudly on the floor, calling the attention of the room. The 26 member would go to the new arrival and ask who they are. They spoke what Ivor refers to as “prison language” – a unique mixture of Zulu with Afrikaans and English similar to fanigalore and  known as Sabela.  If the newcomer doesn’t belong to a gang he must admit it. If he is already a member of a gang his response is more likely to be “Don’t ask me who I am; who are you?” To which the 26 would reply “You should know you are standing with representatives of the 26s.” The new prisoner is now encouraged to declare which gang he belongs to. Once each new prisoner has been assigned, a representative from each gang makes his way to every cell on the block announcing the new arrivals and members of their camp.

There are a vast number of social rules to adhere to in the prisons system. It’s an intricate social network with a long-running history. However, the system works only in the construct of prison. A high-ranking 27, inked to the ears means nothing on the street. The respect and fear garnered behind bars withers on the outside.

When the 26 gang wishes to recruit members, they have to consult the other groups, name the men they hope to indoctrinate and give other gang members an opportunity to dispute the candidate and state why. If a candidate has been raped, if they have any physical defect or if they’re a known snitch, they cannot join the 26s. If any of the candidates are guilty of the transgressions, the other gang members have to declare so.

BEHIND THE SCENES
It doesn’t take long to get the picture that the Numbers gangs run the prison. Uncontrollable prisoners make for very bad PR and the easiest way to maintain an illusion of control is to allow gang members to quietly run their own system throughout the prison. Ivor believes fighting against the gang system in prison will only lead to violent uproar and protest from the prisoners.

In Pollsmoor prison, there are rooms with only 28s and only 26s in each room. Ivor believes being in close proximity much of the time makes it easier for the gang members to plan and orchestrate violent acts against the other gangs. In other prisons, gang members are mixed together, leading to a more hostile environment and opportunities to stealthily take out a member of a rival gang.

TV is a huge thing in prison; inmates have been stabbed over changing TV programmes in cell rooms. Ivor recalls a fight in his cell in Drakensvlei where one group wanted to watch WWE and another wanted to watch Kaizer Chiefs in the PSL – the dispute was settled in blood. However, prisoners do tend to behave so as not have their television confiscated.

Every prison has their corrupt warders: “One warder used to smoke weed with us,” says Ivor. Ivor and his friend would give him a pair of Grasshoppers shoes for the warder to sell on the outside for money to smuggle in more weed. He would take some money for himself and also give the prisoners some marijuana. There are also warders who are fighting for change.

The one thing that really works in prison is sport. “It’s the one thing that brings everyone together – enemies, rival gangs, whatever. When we play sport, there’s no trouble in prison.” Soccer, rugby and athletics are the three most popular sports. While in juvenile prison Ivor was part of an athletics team and he fondly remembers running against children in neighbouring schools in the area.

MY BROTHER, MY ENEMY
One Friday evening, Ivor and a fellow 26 member presented their list of candidates to the other gangs. Their list was accepted as all members fitted the requirements – to the other prisoner’s knowledge. The candidates happened to be contained in the same section as Ivor’s younger brother. That Saturday night, Ivor’s brother and friends sabotaged the recruit, making each potential member unfit to join the 26s.

Ivor was ordered to take a hit out on his brother – murder him to get revenge for the recruitment sabotage. Word quickly got out among the warders, making the task difficult to carry out. Ivor was admittedly relieved he didn’t ever need to carry out the murder but insists he would have had no choice if he got the chance. “It’s not a matter of choice,” says Ivor. “If I don’t go through with it then I dishonour the camp. I’d be an outcast; that’s the worst – when no group will accept you.”

Ivor and his brother were in separate sections of the prison and didn’t attend classes until the feud died down. Ivor recalls walking to his brother’s section and seeing him through a gated wall holding up an old school photograph of him and his brother together. The young man yelled “You’re not my brother! I’ll never forgive you for what you did,” referring to Dion’s murder.

I BROKE MY MOTHER’S HEART
Four months before Ivor was due for another transfer, he received a call from the head office. His brother was called with him and this was the first time in months they’d had a face-to-face interaction. To get a call out of the blue with no recollection of recent transgressions of the law can usually only mean one thing – someone has died. “I just knew,” says Ivor.  

The head warder told the siblings that their mother had died of a heart attack. Ivor’s brother broke down in tears and asked “What is going to happen to us?” Ivor scoffs and says “What a stupid question to ask. We’ve already sold our lives to our camps. He’s a 28 and I’m a 26”. They were on their own. “I realised in that moment that we were orphans.”  Neither Ivor nor his brother was allowed out to attend their mother’s funeral.

Ivor turned to his younger brother and said: “Listen dude, I don’t know what you’re going to do with your life when you leave here but I promise you prison will never see me again.” That was the first time Ivor had ever made an uncompromising commitment to anything. In that moment he made a promise to himself that he would do whatever it took to get out of prison and stay out.

BOYS TO MEN
Ivor’s celebrated his twenty-first birthday by joining his older peers in the adult section of the prison. There was no happy ceremony, no golden key or candles on a cake; he simply walked over to the adult prison and into manhood. There are moments that make it easy to turn into a “monster”, as Ivor puts it, but he hung on to the belief that he was not always like this. At some point he was a good person, he cared for people, felt compassion for them. Ivor believes prison, especially the gangs, strip prisoners of that: Their memories of being a good person.

Brandvlei was one massive courtyard and Ivor’s prison block boasted between twenty-one and twenty-five rooms hosting around 1,500 prisoners, most of them members of a gang. The best way to survive is to join a gang. If one arrives at the age of twenty-one to an adult prison and don’t quickly affiliate with a gang, one has a slim chance of survival – Ivor reckons an eighty percent chance of getting raped in the first few days. You will be stripped of all your belongings and moulded into the prison system quickly.

The golden rule in prison? “The fastest live the longest.” If you don’t stab first, you will get stabbed. “That’s how we lived, every day. Brandvlei prison was that times twenty.”

FREEDOM
Ivor was released on the 7 December 2005 after serving five years in prison. “Not a single minute of solitary confinement was as lonely and scary as that first day out,” Ivor recalls. He had the clothes on his back and R270 in his pocket. He had nowhere to go and no family to visit. Ivor didn’t know what could be waiting for him on the other side. Not many prisoners make it past two months of being free. They’ve been so wired into the prison system, into their gang network and way of life that the outside world makes little sense anymore and their freedom becomes a new cage.

Prisoners are conditioned every day: 7am inspection, 8am breakfast, 2pm dinner, 4pm lockup, day after day. When they’re finally released, they have twenty-four hours to whatever they want with their time. Without a support system it can be easy for ex-prisoners to fade away into the mess and lean back on what they know best: stealing and drugging. Ivor believes a lot of ex-prisoners transgress the law in an effort to get caught again and go back to prison. “Life is better in prison than on the outside, especially if you belong to a gang,” says Ivor. “You’re respected, guaranteed a bed, blankets, food, people to pass the time with and a sense of community. Those things don’t come easily when you’re on your own on the outside.”

On the outside, a 26 or 27 means nothing. It won’t get respect or find a job any easier. Some areas in the Cape Flats will acknowledge and support the gang members, but the Numbers gangs were never meant to be sustained outside of the prison walls.

On his darkest days, Ivor would remind himself of the commitment he made on hearing the news of his mother’s death – that prison would never see him again. “I’d tell myself I’ve come such a long way, you have to stick this thing out.”

Ivor refers to some of his friends back home having messed up lives and pointing pickled fingers at the government or white privilege in blame. Ivor insists he is where he is today because of the choices he’s made since leaving prison and because of the people who chose to take a chance on him. Ivor had every reason to call it quits and go back to a life of crime, blaming his dead father or his appalling home life, but he didn’t. Instead, he finished studying and found a calling, encouraging hundreds of young kids to make good choices and live a straight life.

Ivor has been out of prison for 11 years. His brother has been in and out of prison over twenty times since then. He is out of prison now; let’s hope it stays that way. Ivor admits he is the exception to the rule. “My story is not the common prison story. I would love it to be, but it’s not.” This is what drives Ivor to make a difference with his story. He hopes to inspire young men to keep out of jail.

PRISONER TO PASTOR
Ivor struggled to find work out of prison but soon got involved in a church group. They would serve soup and bread to their community on Sundays and this kept him fed during his time out of prison. “They were the only ones who took me in. It doesn’t matter what you did, they will have a space for you. I thought maybe I should get more invested in this. The church saw value in me and spoke worth into my life.”

Ivor worked for a while in the prison ministry. This was difficult for him: It brought up too much pain from the past, so Ivor turned his focus to St Paul’s United Church in Johannesburg.  

Ivor studied theology as well as dance and a little drama with an institution called Pneumatix, a youth programme centred on personal development and the performing arts. With them he toured the country sharing his story and hoping to change lives. “It’s a much more rewarding experience to give than it is to take” says Ivor with a smile. 

 

Ivor is open about his story and agreed to use his real name in this tale. “I don’t want to have to hide who I am. It’s just exhausting not being who you are.”  People don’t get a chance to see behind the child from a broken home, the convict, the killer. Peel back the layers and you’ll find a brilliant, bright young man with a bleeding heart for a troubled youth and a passion for making a difference.

“That same evil is in all of us and we’re no different than any other person. We also like ice-cream and get ticked off by mosquitoes. What they [prisoners] did and what they took from society doesn’t make them any less human. It’s our circumstance and what we know about the world that leads us into our situations. I found myself paying tax and contributing well to society after my time in prison. I enjoyed the idea of giving back and helping others to find their path in life.”

Ivor and Romeo are still great friends. Romeo is currently serving time in a prison and Ivor visits him whenever he goes to Cape Town. Ivor hopes to gain exposure for his cause and ministry. He wants to travel the country and speak about his story to encouraging young men and women to avoid his mistakes.

Ivor is now a youth pastor working at St Paul’s United Church, Mulbarton in Johannesburg. He thoroughly enjoys his work and is very excited about his prospects at the church. While becoming a youth pastor may be a significant change from young Ivor’s dream of becoming doctor, in his own way he still heals and inspires people. He admits he never pictured himself doing what he does, but now that he’s found God and helping to mould young minds, Ivor wouldn’t have it any other way.  

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