For months, few details surfaced of Oscar Pistorius’ life in a maximum security prison. There’s a bit of grainy cellphone video leaked out of the disgraced Olympian playing soccer with a Czech mob boss who shared his hospital prison wing, but little else — until now.
Like all inmates in South Africa’s prison system, Pistorius was able to air his complaints to members of an independent inspection arm of correctional services, giving a fascinating insight into his life behind bars.
Two of those officers, Violet Ngobeni and Boitumelo Morake, met with Pistorius multiple times.
“When he arrived he was angry,” said Ngobeni outside Kgosi Mampuru II prison. “The first time I went to see him he was like ‘I don’t want to talk to anyone.'”
Ngobeni and Morake first met Pistorius soon after he was imprisoned for killing his girlfriend, the model Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine’s Day, 2013.
They say he initially struggled to adapt to prison life, where he had to spend 23 hours a day in his cell. But they say he’s since changed dramatically.
“Now he can sit down and discuss and laugh at the same time,” Ngobeni said.
During their time with Pistorius, he shared his complaints.
“He complained that he wanted a bath. They [correctional services) built a bath in his cell. He also had a complaint about his bed. And they replaced his bed for him,” says Murasiet Mentoor, the regional manager of the Judicial Inspectorate, who reviews hundreds of written prisoner complaints.
Mentoor says Pistorius complained about his gym equipment, so they changed that, too.
And while Mentoor says most prisoners complained about the food, Pistorius did it out of fear.
“Oscar was worried that the food in the prison might be poisoned and that it would affect his health,” he said.
Mentoor said prison officials offered to let Pistorius cook the raw produce, but he preferred to only buy processed food from the prison store.
And it wasn’t just Pistorius’ diet that set him apart. The athlete, a double amputee who lost both legs below the knees when he was 11 months old, is housed in the hospital wing of the prison, where he had his own cell and separate toilet away from the general prison population.
“When you go there, at the hospital section, it is very secure and where he is, it is very clean. It’s nice and neat,” says Morake.
In the general prison, overcrowding is a constant problem, more than 50 inmates can be squeezed in a cell designed for 30, all sharing one toilet and basin.
Mentoor says Pistorius’ high profile and disability meant the hospital wing the only viable choice for housing him.
“If you are a high-profile inmate, you are at risk because the other inmates and the gangsters within the correctional services will target you,” he said.
Ngobeni and Morake say they last visited Pistorius a few days ago, when he thought he was about to be released into corrective supervision at his uncle’s house in an affluent Pretoria suburb.
Ngobeni said: “He just talked about “I miss my family, I need to spend more time with my family, just to go out and see my friends.””
But that is now on hold after South Africa’s Justice Minister decided to review the parole board’s recommendation for early release.