I t was a strange visit and probably the last one too. For the 20th time exactly, the editor of The Huaraz Telegraph went to the Víctor Perez Liendo prison in Huaraz to pay a visit to one of the very few foreign inmates. Lewis Charles Cornelius from South Africa is now 56 years old and smiled when he saw us. Straight away he asked if we knew he had only 29 days left of his 12 year prison sentence he had obtained for trying to smuggle 17 kilos and 211 grams of cocaine hydrochloride (C17H21NO4) from Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima, via Amsterdam to Johannesburg in South Africa. It was a strange visit though; Lewis looked and talked differently, talked about God like never before and he was happy with our visit, as he always had been. The editor of The Huaraz Telegraph had prepared a couple of questions for Lewis and he was happy to answer them for our readers.
How was do you feel and how was Christmas?
I feel good, although I lost two teeth and have only ten teeth left. I will probably have ´em all pulled before getting out. I can´t wait to get released. I am glad that soon I will no longer be part of this insanity and to be able to escape from this discrimination.
Christmas was quiet, like all the other years before. It´s just a normal day actually. I have neither friends nor family members visiting me so it´s kind of like my birthday. We received a quarter of a chicken with rice or potatoes on Christmas Eve and there was also some chocolate and Panettone we had to share with the other inmates.
With less than a month left on your 12 year prison sentence, do you sleep any better?
No I don’t actually. I feel very restless and do dream a lot more. Three nights ago I dreamt about my first born daughter (Lewis has eight children). And I have had many dreams lately of people that are deceased like my brother-in-law and my closest sister too. I believe this must be a premonition. Maybe they´re trying to contact me or to warm me for something.
Are the guards acting differently now you’re about to be released?
Most definitely, I had no bad ties with them but a couple of days ago we had a big search in the topico (hospital section where Lewis is staying because he is suffering from H.I.V.) and the new director even made a couple of jokes although he is much stricter than the previous director. I had a terrible relation with the previous director as you know. I have been having trouble with the nutritionist about my diet because I have been given raw food which is not right. I should follow a strict diet because of my disease but anyway.
Have you thought about how you´re going to pay S/ 28,161.17 when released from Huaraz prison?
It´s strange. I have spoken to some lawyers here and they believe that there is no such law that states I have to pay those fines. I believe my embassy is obligated to help but we´ll see. I will sue them for sure. They´re a bunch of lying bastards (SIC), you may write that down! They have denied help at every possible way because I am in Huaraz and not in Lima in prison. They have also kept or stolen my bible which my ex-wife has sent me many years ago. I can´t even recall how many times they have visited me but I believe only twice. The first time was 20 months after being incarcerated and the second time was 34 months after that. There might have been a third time but I forgot.
What have you learnt from your time in prison?
I have learned not to make the same mistake twice but above all, I trust no one anymore. The best thing is that I quit smoking, stopped taking drugs and take better care of myself. I have been clean for over five years now. I haven’t even touched a single cigarette. Additionally I have learned to show more consideration towards other people, especially my family members although we haven’t been in touch recently.
I would like to relate my story to youngsters one day when I get back to South Africa. I have improved my relation with God although I think that He is not to be found in the bible or church but truly in your heart.
Although still 29 days to go, what would you consider your worst moment in a Peruvian prison?
Maybe the years between 2011 and 2012 were the worst, just before you showed up one day. I was using drugs a lot and was victimized and discriminated a lot. I planned some bad things in my head but luckily I did not execute those thoughts. I nearly died three times in prison. Twice because of an overdoses and once because I was almost beaten to death by the guards. I had hoped to have a bit more visitors during the year but what can you do?
So what would be your best moment?
That moment still has to come; it will be the day of my release.
What would you do when you get out?
I will try to reestablish the contact with my family. Here in topico I can´t even make a phone call. Like I said before, I would like to share my story to the younger ones, maybe on schools in South Africa. I would like to buy a house on wheels to travel through my country and have a normal and decent life. I have fear of being alone when I get back home but I am sure I will be able to manage that too.
I would like to apologise to my family members for the damage I have caused. Especially to Dola, Kyle and Joline but also to members that I have lost like my parents.