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Updated 12 September 2014

What if Oscar Pistorius goes to jail?

As we wait for the Court to reveal the verdict and, eventually, sentence, some wonder how Oscar Pistorius would cope with the experience of prison.

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Perhaps the first question needs to be: how might Oscar cope with not going to prison?

Having heard the evidence, admittedly, it would seem to most of us unlikely that he wouldn’t be found guilty of something, but as in the OJ Simpson case, stranger things have happened.

ReadPossible outcomes of the Oscar Pistorius trial

Of course some of the nuttier Pistorians would refuse to believe him guilty of anything, even if he produced a full and detailed confession, and a security tape was discovered revealing that events precisely matched the State case.

Indeed, not even if a choir of Saints descended from Heaven in clouds and thunderbolts, singing of his guilt.

But even if fully exonerated in legal terms, it’s hard to imagine he could regain anything like the life he left before. Sponsors would be uninterested, and crowds unlikely to cheer, even if he tried running again.

Ironically, though he was previously admired in good part for his personal story of triumph over adversity (there are other good runners we don’t feel emotionally fond of); this was largely destroyed, quite deliberately, by his Defence.

ReadNel nails Oscar as a deceitful witness

Roux’s insistence that, instead, he has been chronically emotionally stunted by his disability, excessively anxious from infancy, his mind filled with mythical “startles”, to the point that it sounded remarkable he hadn’t run amok before now.

It’s more than a joke to say that henceforth people would hesitate to visit him at home, and would refuse to use the toilet when he was around.

That could be a reasonable response if we believe how Roux has portrayed Oscar.

Indeed, Roux says we must set a new legal standard for reasonableness, just for footless athletes, who apparently can’t be expected to be as reasonable as us ordinary, footed folks.

Read: Should prisoners have more rights in SA jails?

If he somehow escapes serious penalties, will this add to his already excessive sense of entitlement to special treatment, and lead to further escapades and misconduct?

Even if he receives a severe sentence, it’s almost certain, so long as his family help carry the costs, that he will appeal, presumably at each court level up to the Constitutional Court.

His legal team will doubtless demand that he remain on bail until the final appeal is over, so there could be a lengthy period in which he is a convicted criminal, facing a substantial sentence, but out on bail.

This would inevitably be a stressful period of prolonged suspense. Judging by other episodes which have been reported, at a nightclub, and snapping at a reporter’s naïve, irritating but standard question, there could be further occasions in which he behaves gracelessly, and with rapid fury which better fits the Prosecution picture of him than his Defence portrait.

Coping with prison

But if, as seems likely, he does get sentenced to time in prison, whether lengthy or brief, how is he likely to handle that situation?

It rather depends on whether one accepts the Defence version which was so unconvincing, or the finding of the neutral shrinks at Weskoppies who found him normal.

Celebrities may have a harder time in jail than others, especially if convicted of a nasty and unsympathetic crime.

ReadWhat's wrong with SA prisons?

If he behaves like the crushed blossom Roux describes, and takes his plastic bucket along (why, he brought a whole new meaning to the concept of a Bucket List) he may attract hostility, as bullies always appreciate fresh meat displaying vulnerability.

If he behaves as reported in nightclubs and elsewhere, as a cocky guy with a sense of entitlement, and absolutely no sense of responsibility for his choices and actions, bragging of family connections and wealth, he could attract really serious aggression.

But if he is the Oscar we all believed before the trial started, a man who showed courage and calm determination in facing and overcoming adversities, displaying humility and friendliness, it would probably go a lot better for him, and he may cope well.

He could use the time to gain educational qualifications, as he will need to find a new line of work when he emerges.

The prison authorities will face challenges, in seeking to provide adequate safety and care, while avoiding the appearance of giving especially favourable attention.

One such challenge, for instance, will be how to address issues of potential suicide attempts.

Read: Signs someone wants to commit suicide

Roux has claimed that Pistorius is seriously depressed, but then Roux has tended to provide surprisingly much psychiatric testimony at variance with the views of neutral experts.

Not all attempts are intended to cause serious harm (though they may well do so, unintentionally) and some people may make such an attempt in order to make others feel guilty, or to attract sympathy.

It is wise to provide basic precautions in the early weeks, for all new prisoners, until it is clearer how they are reacting to prison conditions.

Read: Why Oscar is unlikely to survive the South African prison system

If there are to be appeals, one wonders whether Pistorius and his family will select an entirely new legal team for this process. The current team were dismally unimpressive, for whatever reason.

Remember in any appeal, no new witnesses can be called, and it is based on the transcript of the trial, and the skill of the advocate in arguing that a different interpretation of the evidence would be more fair.

This would be easier for a fresh team to attempt.

Read more

Roundup of CyberShrink's Oscar Trial commentaries
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All said and done, we still don't know why Oscar shot Reeva

Professor MA Simpson is Health24's CyberShrink. A South African psychiatrist, he qualified in medicine and in psychiatry in Britain. He has been a senior academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries. Read more of his columns.

 
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