Publication: Independent Online Issued: Date: 2007-10-17 Reporter: Barbara Cole

'Prison Break is a Hotel'



Independent Online




Barbara Cole

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Former prisoner Neil Crosthwaite believes white - collar criminals like convicted fraudster Schabir Shaik should serve only a limited prison sentence, with the balance being devoted to community service.

Crosthwaite, who is writing a book on his horror prison experiences (to be titled Hell On The Hill) and how he came to be there, was speaking during an interview on Tuesday shortly after addressing a business breakfast called to hear his story, as well as the findings of the PriceWaterhouseCoopers 4th biennial global economic crime survey.

He said his suggestion that the system should use white-collar prisoners' knowledge was supported by several Scotland Yard detectives, whom he met in Durban 18 months ago.

"You are in with hard-core prisoners: murderers, rapists and hijackers, and it could be a death sentence if things go wrong."

Prison Break seems like a hotel

He told the gathering of spellbound business executives, government officials and police officers on Tuesday that if he had to go back to Westville Prison, he would commit suicide.

"No one with a brain in their head can imagine what you go through there," he told the gathering.

Compared to Westville, the conditions in the hit TV series, Prison Break were like a hotel.

"I spent three years in hell and don't want to go through it again," said Crosthwaite, explaining later that Westville Prison is known as one of the hardest jails in the country.

And that is why if someone came to him now with the biggest deal going, "unless it is 100 percent down the line, I'm not going to take it."

'I spent three years in hell'

Crosthwaite pleaded guilty to 336 counts of corruption involving bribes valued at R600 000 to officials at various hospitals to secure business worth R12,7-million for his three companies.

Although he did not consider himself greedy at the time, he now thinks he was, he said.

He was a multi-millionaire living in Mount Edgecombe. He wanted to succeed and he listened for opportunities. He wanted a bigger car. He had a microlight and wanted something bigger.

An ex-Springbok cyclist, Crosthwaite's white-collar crime began with people in the hospitals asking him for "help" and initially, he took them food, school shoes and soccer shoes.

"Business was picking up, I was depending on the money and the business. Everyone else was doing it, I was told. I got into a rut that I couldn't get out of," he recalled, advising his audience "not to be tempted, as temptation is always there".

Then he "got nailed" and went to Westville Prison, "the darkest place on earth".

He recalled being loaded into an overcrowded horse-and-trailer prison truck designed for 100, but carrying 300; of holding cells for 300; of cells where 70 prisoners shared the same toilet that did not flush at weekends.

He saw one man killed and another "sliced apart" with razor blades for R10. He told of gangs, drugs and how the only way to survive was not to show weakness, but to be aggressive.

There was "no way" that he was going to eat prison food. He would not give that to his dog.

He managed to fashion a cooker and cooked vegetables and chicken, and later got hold of a toaster, which was confiscated (he bought it back from a warden for R10).

He then vowed to do everything possible to warn people what could happen to them if they followed in his footsteps.

He smuggled in a camera and his pictures of life inside are now shown at his presentations.

Crosthwaite, who was released two years ago after a successful appeal against his seven year sentence, now runs a labour broking business.

With acknowledgements to Barbara Cole and Independent Online.