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By: Mpumelelo Macheke.

430822_357171557712741_1672992008_nI entered the electric-wire-rigged gates of the Leeukop Prison, puzzled and positioned in such a way that weary outsiders would think that this was a way to eradicate ‘systematic’ escapes, which fed my perception that ‘Prison Breaks’ (or at least attempted cases) were more common than any other crime and investigative television series could pack in one season.

I entered timidly into the entrance of the first door. Looking around while ferociously nibbling my bottom lip, I took sub-conscious note of the vending machine which was unsurprisingly read ”Out Of Order”, the single toilet which must’ve been clogged with rotting undigested waste and the Security Checking Point which was all matrixed in the building. The smell inside the building was pungent of children singing Boom Shaka songs in streets and graveled passages of townships. The wall on my left hand side gave me the image of children with puffy-rose cheeks and exaggerated eyes, seeming somewhat content with life. This showered me with irony and I shivered. The guard in khaki uniform performed the standard physical check by patting my body all over for objects that could possibly threaten the calm aura I’d noticed when I first entered the prison gates. My gastric organs growl in tune with my nerves, and the thought of him finding even the slightest threat made my stomach churn like old washing machines clogged with hair balls, faded love letters and rusty coins.

Number 339 was the man I was assigned to. Names don’t seem to be of much importance around here. Neither are the fairytales some of us live in. ‘’Sho ntwana’’ he greeted – his breath polluted by cigarettes and cannabis. I knew that the stereotypes of jailbirds were beginning to claim dominance in my mind, as I didn’t find the architecture of his introduction peculiar. A regretful morph of affirmative rehabilitation in an orange overall tried to hide his remorse behind the clouds of tobacco he’d exhale into the air. Being within those walls eroded my pride and left me devoid of the fairytale I had been living in.

I found my conversation with Bheki (no. 339) rather intriguing and ambitious than the one of loathe and remorse I’d prepared myself to engage with. He reminisced more about the future than the past. In fact, he only spoke about how his mother would whip up daily batches of jam-filled fat-cakes for him to take to school in the winter. That was the only bit of history I gained from him. His face was engulfed with hope and elation as our conversation progressed. The tissue in his face softened, allowing him to smile while laughs and talks of ‘’when I leave this place …’’ became the theme for our conversation. In order to understand the glimmer of light – which was the conversation we were sharing – in this place where dreams and innocence came to die, I had to remove myself from the comfort we established in our conversation to ask:

‘’Why are you so content? Your date of release isn’t for another four-and-a-half years and you’ve managed to share with me some of your most sincere aspirations. ‘’

‘’I’m just grateful’’ he said with a smirk while slightly raising his eyebrows. ‘’Ntwana, I’ve been offered the opportunity to start my life anew and live again. Prison is what you make it’’ he continued. ‘’Prison has given me the opportunity to truly understand the concept of gratitude. In order to interact, smile and laugh with the person sitting before you today, I had to understand my own struggles. I had to establish what my struggle was, why I was struggling and why I needed not to struggle no more. Believe me, the last question had me on my knees begging God while I prayed with a rope in my hands, standing at the borderline of my life. Gratitude deserves special attention; its own identity, like fingerprints when the authorities realized it couldn’t have been another person besides me. We need to learn how to adjust our attitudes not only to ourselves but how we handle the concept of gratitude. Gratitude is the soul’s fingerprint, sana. You need to go and study the architecture of your own gratitude.’’

This task took me almost three years to understand, but I have not yet been able to fully embrace it. However, with the aid of Bheki’s honest account, I too, manage to dive into my own being to relieve what it was that made me truly grateful and how to go about giving thanks.

We have molded ourselves into disregarding some of the most fundamental components of our growth. We find some sort of solace in the perception that it is in the good times we share, the good food we eat, the great people we surround ourselves with, or that it is within materialistic gratification that we find authentic growth.  It is at this point where we let the tunes of deception play mercilessly in our ears. You see, it is through the struggles and adversity we’re subjected to, that we find true growth. It is through the times of adversity which mold us into the people we either adore or detest when we look in the mirror. Giving thanks is not about the exchange of symbols of tangible gratitude or doing something favorable for one who may be doing the exact same thing for you. There is value in misfortune.

If we took an honest moment, sat down with ourselves and recollected all the memories and moments which caused self-conflict and disorder in our lives, we’ll find ourselves drunk with embarrassment at how the characteristics of our garbage are identifiable to the beings we are today, whether we’re proud to be in our own skin or not. It is in going back that we move forward, searching for the questions that we find answers, to struggle before prospering. Life is a complicatedly simple spectrum.

Giving true thanks is paying homage to what contributed in molding the beautiful walking narrative you are.