High suicide rates and overcrowding are some of the issues plaguing South Africa’s correctional facilities.

Releasing its report on the state of the country’s jails in 2018, the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services lamented the high rate of suicide.

The prison oversight body has cited the social phenomenon as the most common type of unnatural death in jail, with Gauteng having the highest statistics.

Late statesman Nelson Mandela once said a measure of a country is in how it treats its prisoners.

As the SABC continues to review 25 years of democracy, producer Lindiwe Mabena spoke to a reformed criminal for a first-hand account on the quality of life in the country’s jails.

Jackie Nhlapho is a former jailbird, who grew up in the Zola section of the Soweto Township, in Johannesburg.

“Crime is what you mostly see in Zola while growing up. It is so bad that it ends up looking like it is not wrong. You become revered. I remember there were older people we saw wearing nice sneakers. They were not working but they always had money. This fascinated my friends and me. And you know as a child you take more what people do than what they say,” he says.

Nhlapho’s life changed while serving a six-year jail term at Boksburg Correctional Centre in 2005.

He says life was so unbearable that he swore never to return.

Nhlapho believes that the country’s prisons breed criminals that are more brazen.

“In jail, you graduate in crime because you meet more experienced criminals. It is where you get ideas to do daring crime.”

The newlywed alleges that community members also contribute to contraband smuggling in jail.

“For instance, Krugersdorp prison is surrounded by houses. Therefore, when I want you to bring me dagga, I will tell which side you should go and throw that plastic there. Then I will ask the cleaning staff to go fetch the parcel for me, it could be dagga, drugs or a gun. Warders also smuggle in drugs and knives.”

Nhlapho converted to Christianity after being transferred to Leeuwkop prison in 2008.

He credits his faith for helping him stay clean and out of trouble.

Nhlapho had been doing drugs for 13 years when he quit.

He was released from prison in 2010.

The newlywed is now an evangelist and helps young people who are addicted to drugs.

Nhlapho is urging authorities to allow them to preach in prison, despite their previous brushes with the law.

“I am aware there are those who pretend to go to jail to preach while they are lying. However, I want people to know that if there is a fake – there is also authenticity. If government can open the door for us to preach even at schools. The Word of God changes a person. We have the solution. When we speak to prisoners, we speak from a place of understanding. We are able to reach them.”

For more of his story, watch insert below: