I, Ian Michael Potgieter, a South African, would like to provide the following statement as a recollection of my time spent with Diego Dougherty Novella.
I met Diego on the 13th of November 2015 in the hospital wing of Pollsmoor Prison (awaiting trial section). We slept in beds next to each other in the same overcrowded prison cell (12 beds +/- 20 awaiting trial prisoners) until January 2016 whereupon Diego left and went to Falkenburg Hospital for 2 months. By the time he returned in March 2016, I had been moved to a single prison cell (still in the hospital section), we arranged for Diego to immediately move into the open single prison cell next to the one I had been placed in. It stayed that way until I left the awaiting trial section of Pollsmoor on the 18th of October, 2016.
Being of a similar age with common interests (speaking English) not common in Pollsmoor, an immediate trust was formed between Diego and I, this was essential to survive the tough/dangerous day and night situations that are common in Pollsmoor prison. (We had each other’s back so to speak). Living with each other 24/7 initially and then spending 10-14 hours a day with each other (when we were placed in the single cells), we became firm friends. There is very little Diego doesn’t know about my life or the people in it and likewise. Diego opened up to me about his life and the tragic incident, I experienced and knew Diego better than anyone.
Diego had many emotional moments during this time that no one else experienced except for me, in these moments Diego laid his soul open on the floor. I was there to help him through it and to encourage him to stay strong during the process that leads to where he is today.
I would now like to share with you some of these moments, emotions, and simple conversations you may not be aware of, but took place between Diego and me.
The first thing that struck me when I met Diego was that he was a broken man, not broken becaue he faced the possibility of years in prison, but that down-hearted irreparable fleeing one has when they are faced with the loss of a loved one. A feeling of deep remorse and longing for a loved one you will never see again. He was not only coming to terms with this loss, but that it was a loss committed by his hands. It would be fair to say that Diego was struggling in the early days/weeks/months and he continuously expressed this grief and sadness, he was feeling terrible at Gaby’s family loss and that they were experiencing an even tougher time. On numerous occasions, he would walk in to my cell and express a need to have a moment with Gaby’s family and express his remorse. Days after attending court were some of his toughest, he felt saddened at not having the chance to talk to Gaby’s family and witnessing their sorrow hurt Diego more than they would know.
As time went on and we got to know each other better, Diego one day out of the blue started telling me his life story and I mean everything. This went on hour after our for days, accumulating in the tragic incident, what surprised me the most was his attention to detail and honesty. I believe he left nothing out and a lot of what he said caused him great embarrassment. I think Diego opened up to me because I often played the “devil’s advocate” and challenged him at anything i thought was wrong, I was equally honest with him and expressed my opinion when I thought he was wrong. I didn’t care if he liked what I said, we would debate and sometimes go our separate ways for a day or two if we had a disagreement. I was much more testing and confrontational than Diego. His actions surprised me, I would raise my voice at him, he never raised his voice. I challenged him on personal levels, he never did. Diego always remained calm, even more so when challenged repeatedly by Pollsmoor notorious gangsters. During our time together in Pollsmoor I witnessed Diego as a king and caring guy, he gave freely to those who had nothing. Time and time again Diego had emotional challenges, for example the time his father passed away. The day of Gaby’s birthday, the day- one year on from Gaby’s passing. All these moments brought deep emotion and tears out of Diego.
What did all my talks and time spent with Diego tell me?
Diego is a caring compassionate guy. I believe he cared deeply for Gaby. He was first and foremost experiencing Africa when he came across a possible solution to Gaby’s crippling disease- I believe he honestly had her best interest at heart when he invited her to join him in SA. I personally don’t believe Diego was himself on the day of the tragedy. He was prone to trying herbal/natural remedies and these combinations altered him. In a tough environment like Pollsmoor where we witnessed violent peoples, violent behaviour daily and under our own trying circumstances, I never witnessed any behaviour form Diego that was remotely violent. Diego was always kind, decent and respectful of other inmates and authority. He was indeed non-confrontational, I know – I tested him.
I believe Diego was honest with me about the day of the tragedy, I believe he never had any intention other than love for and to help Gaby. I believe something went wrong while taking his herbal remedies, natural drugs that influenced/altered his behaviour and he suddenly found himself in the middle of a terrible solution.
Diego never told me he didn’t do it. He believed he was possessed, and I believe him. He spends every waking second dealing with what has happened at his ow hands. I saw with my own eyes the pain and remorse. Diego has suffered, will continue to suffer until he forgives himself. He will get though whatever he has to face now. He will come out strong, he will influence and help people to do good, because I believe at heart, Diego is a good man.
I decided to write this because I have followed Diego’s trial extensively. He is remorseful, has always been since the day I met him. He has had to overcome the loss of a loved one more difficult than most. I witnessed Diego when no one else could, in Pollsmoor all alone, family thousands of kilometers away, heartbroken. I feel for all concerned in the tragedy, Diego, his family, and all of Gaby’s family.