Spending #MothersDay in Pollsmoor Prison

Western Cape
Cape Town - It looks like your typical suburban home - a large single-storey house, a fence, a playground with jungle gyms and a garden, kitchen and shared bedrooms.

But this is the home, for now, of eight women who have been convicted of various crimes, living in relative comfort with their babies.

On Friday, Weekend Argus went inside Pollsmoor’s special Baby Mother Unit, a few streets away from the maximum-security prison, to see how they would be spending Mother’s Day.

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Pollsmoor inmate Roschella Gertze with her daughter Charmelle-Quinn DeWee, 10 months old, at the Pollsmoor creche. Picture: Jason BoudThe house in the grounds of Pollsmoor Prison where mothers with babies stay. Picture: Jason Boud

The women seemed happy and welcoming of outsiders.

They spoke of their plans for Mother’s Day and how they would be spending the short time left with their babies before sending them away to family on the outside.

Under South African law, children can stay with their mothers in prison until the age of 2.

The house in the grounds of Pollsmoor Prison where mothers with babies stay. Picture: Jason Boud

Until 2008, children were allowed to stay in prison until the age of 5, but research showed how damaging child imprisonment could be as it affected their early childhood development.

The mothers choose the amount of time the children are “imprisoned” with them during the 24 months.

They have the option to either send the child to their family or place them into the system once the 2 years are up.

The Baby Mother Unit is divided into several blocks.

The facility houses eight children, providing educational and emotional support from specially trained staff.

There are six nannies who are inmates but don’t live in the unit.

They provide day care while the mothers are on duty in the prison’s kitchens, toilets and so on.

Pollsmoor is the only prison in South Africa that has a facility of this kind.

It also allows mothers and nannies to walk their babies inside the gates of the unit.

Talking to the mothers in the creche who had returned from their jobs as cleaners and cooks, the topic of Mother’s Day brought joy and tears to their eyes.

Spending time with their children is invaluable, they said, because some have been absent mothers before.

Rochelle Gertze, 30, is a mother of two who is with her 10-month baby girl, Charmelle-Quinee DeWee .

For the former drug addict it’s her first time raising a child.

Gertze’s 3-year-old son is with her mother in Somerset West.

She said due to tough economic conditions breastfeeding was the only option and this meant taking her baby with her to prison.

“I am in for shoplifting,” she said.

“At the time I was caught stealing with my 7-week old-baby, I was unemployed and needed to provide for her.”

Gertze’s baby was oblivious to her surroundings, smiling widely and laughing often.

Weekend Argus

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