The courtyard in Robben Island was an unfriendly, empty and barren place. It was a sombre reminder of where I was. From the beginning of my imprisonment I asked to start a garden in the courtyard, to change this sad looking place. After years of refusing my request, we were finally given permission to plant a small garden on a narrow patch of earth against a wall. Being able to plant and nourish life in this prison courtyard offered me a sense of freedom and satisfaction that is hard to put into words even today. A garden is one of the few things in prison that one could control.
A powerful memory that I have is of a beautiful tomato plant that I coaxed from tiny seed to tender seedling to a strong plant that gave plump bright red juicy tomatoes. Despite my efforts the plant began to wither and die and nothing I did would heal it. When it died I took it carefully from the soil, washed its roots and buried it in a corner of the garden. I felt sad. It once again reminded me of where I was, and the hopeless mess I felt at being unable to nourish other relationships in my life. My wife, my children, my family and my friends. It made me realise the beauty, simplicity and sacred value of family, of loved ones or friends. I swore to myself that I would never take another human being, their friendship or their love for granted ever again.