At the Door of Pollsmoor Prison

Kaleo and Alice, Robben Island 2011

At The Door Of Pollsmoor Prison

for Kaleo,  for Madiba

©2014 by Alice Walker


When we arrived at the door of Pollsmoor prison

we were already deeply stirred

and sat a while outside

calming ourselves before going in.  Me, breathing deeply,

you holding Madiba’s image in consciousness

so that walking in you might more completely


even feel,

the chains.

Once inside they showed us

the tiny cell

and placed me inside it

as they place others they wish to gift

 with more than a glance at the  prison experience

of the much revered, also at times much reviled,

Nelson Mandela;

i stood stretching out my arms, feeling the sides

of the cell move toward me. And feeling my whole self

listening to the eternal essence of you

that is there

and not there.   i looked down

at the pallet on the floor

where you lay awake or slept so many nights

dreaming i am sure of Winnie and your girls.

There was a feeling of deep silence

in the place

where you lived for so long

and i was glad you were permitted

at least to keep

your mind.

The fashion nowadays

seems to be to rape the mind; ravage the spirit.

But there you sat or lay, night after night, and your comrades

were not so far away

in other cells.

What kept you going?

I think it was your love of who you were, and that you knew

who that was!

something your jailers could not know

or even guess.  They would not have known

there were rigorously

 righteous elders

in your lineage

both women and men

and not only

sanusis and sangomas 

who taught you self-respect.  They would have been

ignorant of the elders’ faith in you

and how much this meant to your morale.

Those who are seen, recognized, and embraced 

 by the wisest old people of the tribe

especially by both the women and the men

as you were

cannot really be defeated.  They may be lied about,

imprisoned for decades, or even killed, 

but that is not the same.


Madiba, respected elder, beloved;  in Xhosa.
Sanusi, (ancient) Sangoma, Zulu healer/shaman

Thank you, unknown photographer