Life behind bars

Sharon Mathala
COMEDIAN: Penene Ponono

Penene Ponono reflects on maximum prison experience

When The Voice Online broke the news that popular comedian, Penene Ponono was imprisoned for 30days, the story sent shock waves among his legion of fans on social media.

Fast forward to this week fresh from prison he speaks to SHARON MATHALA about his time at maximum prison.

Born Bokamoso Nthomphe, the 25-year-old comedian was sent to prison largely for his failure to turn up in court when summoned to.

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He was dramatically arrested during his video shoot and sent straight to jail to serve time.

Rocking his stylish dreads, the young comedian was forced to shave off his head as per prison protocol.

At the top of his prison memories is the time when they had amongst them a high profile inmate, Former Director-general of the Directorate of intelligence and Security Services (DIS) Isaac Kgosi.

According to the comedian, there was excitement in prison community surrounding the arrival of Kgosi.

“The whole maximum security knew of his arrest and that he was coming. We did not know exactly where he was going to be kept but I remember we went to bed that night knowing he was amongst us,” Penene Ponono said.

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Asked if other inmates harassed Kgosi who spent two nights at the maximum security central prison, the comedian excitedly responds; “ No one can mess with him. He slept at cell 11 with other prisoners. I was not where he was but we were told by other inmates of his arrival.”

About his own experience Ponono said prisoners spend most of their time praying and asking for forgiveness.

“But you see not all of them are guilty, some of them didn’t actually mean to commit the crimes but of course yes many are guilty.”

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“I went for isolation in Lobatse before I was transferred to maximum prison. I can say that generally I had no problems; except that when I first got inside I wasn’t given any blankets or toiletries. Other inmates offered theirs though,” said the comedian.

According to the Phikwe born comedian prison is worlds apart from what is happening on the outside.

“Most people there do not know what is going on outside prison walls. When you come in they ask you a lot of questions about what is happening outside.”

Asked what specific questions was he asked Ponono said, “The first day I got a lot of inquiries about Makhadzi because I guess that was the weekend of the Makhadzi fever. But they also asked about politics and what is generally happening in Botswana.”

For the duration of his stay, Penene Ponono stayed at the trial section of the maximum prison. He tells us prison is divided into cells which houses roughly 55 inmates each.

“You see the prison cell are like the size of a classroom. Everyone has their own small space with your own little mattress and blankets and by 4pm everyone is expected to be inside their designated cells.”

Asked what kept him busy during his 30-day stay he says; “I used my time to get to know others and their life experiences. Prison for me was a wake-up call as I got to meet all kinds of characters. You get to learn a lot about life in general inside prison. I also spent time cracking jokes and it won me favour with many inmates.”

Which inmate did he bond the most with? “I met quite a number of them but my closest friend was Thabo Masilo. He took care of me whilst inside. It was my first time to see him even though I knew about him. We met on the queue for food and he asked if I was Penene Ponono. He told me a lot of confidential things about him,” he said

The comedian said he was working on creating collaborations with Prisons officials on campaigns to reintegrate ex-prisoners back into the community.

“What I find disturbing the most is that the society hardly accepts ex-prisoners. They are labeled and shunned and that is why most of them end up falling for the trap and committing more crimes. Don’t get me wrong, I am not tolerating criminality but it is what it is. Most criminals are more comfortable inside prison than out in the society,” Penene Ponono said.

Did he witness any rape incidents inside prison? Penene Ponono replied, “It is not rape really per se, it is mostly two consenting adults doing what they want for whatever reason. Even in the outside world it happens right? Look some people do it, here on the outside world either for financial gain or whatever so even inside there are some who do it to gain whatever it is that makes them comfortable.”


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