2017 would mark the last year that I worked in the prison to date. Once the work in the female section from 2016 had been written and devised, we struggled to get a Graduation date for our students. It eventually occurred in May 2017. A prison photographer was allocated but unfortunately the pictures have not as yet been released by the authorities. Hence pictures of their work has instead been provided.
From June – September 2017 we wanted to prepare the women for an actual potential shoot, which was the dream. (A prison authority informed us that we might be able to get permissions for our offenders to participate in the shoot of their material). If they could watch the proceedings they could get on-site experience which could be considered a WORK PAROLE provided the protocols and hoops that would have to be jump through were intact. We were excited and encouraged by that idea, because if and when they are released – and they will be released one day – then it would give them some experience on which to grow. This shoot will still occur once we have the funding – so this possibility is still strong.
There were no certificates for the 2017 module, but we taught them how to do Breakdowns for their own scripts. (Props, sets, costumes, locations, actors, animals etc), they then were tasked with allocating a financial figure to each one. So it really was an experiment and the beginning of their Production experience.
The display for this FESTIVAL OF WORKS (28 short films collected over 4 years) will occur with a show-case display both inside and outside of the prison walls once we have raised funds for this project through this website. See Donate page.
Once we have a product it will be much easier to sell the program into the market-place and have consistent funds year on year to continue, employ more staff and generally make it swing. The history of this pilot project, has already established that there is a real demand for this work inside the prison walls, in both the male and female sections. Some of my released students say this program has changed their lives! One student is already in his second year at a leading film college in South Africa.
So we hope by reading these inspirational stories (see testimonials) you will feel inspired and encouraged to support this remarkable program.
Please tell your friends about it – and encourage anyone whom you think may have the funds or resources to contribute to this program. Donate to us on the Donate Page here, or contact the office.
Sending writing blessings, love.
Here’s to building a nation-full of storytellers as opposed to criminals in this country, or even all over the world.
FEMALE GRADUATION CLASS OF 2016 – THE TORCH OF TENACITY
We were not allowed to bring in a camera or video cam for this occassion, so the prison authorities issued their own warden to do the honors, but for the life of me – now three years later – we STILL cannot get copies of their graduation pictures. This has been a cause of great sadness to Greenlight District Project. Therefore because of the lack of real live photographs on the Female Section, to demonstrate this occasion, displayed on this website are pictures of some of the WORK that they did for us. Their title sheets.
P Dyer had been wanting to bridge into teaching in the women’s section for a long time as the women have very little on their side, and certainly not mind-bending creative arts like film writing. (They were more likely to get hair-dressing, or beauty courses). During 2016 we taught at both the men and the women sections for a while, but about half way through the year decided to teach only on the female side that year. The female section was Grrrrrreat! A totally different experience …
Consider yourselves walking down a long murky, concrete corridor in the middle of winter, where the cold damp seeps into your bones, so chilling that the mere attempt of colourful butterflies, plump ‘botticelli’ ladies sitting at tables and green-painted foliage, drawn on these dank walls by people with an urgent need to overcome adversity, jump out at you as expressions of cheerful life outside the prison walls. Then consider walking into a classroom of chatty women where the comeraderie is grumbles of daily life, or poignant collaboration of each other’s pain of heartfelt circumstances. Like treasures shared amongst only those who dare to see or hear, P Dyer was fortunate enough to be one of those lucky people and she has been humbled by the experience.
“Their need to overcome isolation with a hunger to learn and transform is palpable. My meager offering felt like a blessing that came back to me ten-fold as a shower of gratitude for the work that I am doing here. In their stories they are free. They dare to travel to places that before now have been hidden, even from themselves. By so doing they come to terms with their incarceration by breathing into their souls and finding new life with stifled voices that until now they have not dared to access”.
There are differences in the male and female sections. Clinically speaking, the men actually wrote more creative work, because they hold their emotions close to their chests so they had to rely on imagination.
Whereas the women needed to talk and had no problem sharing their emotional side so their stories. So there was something very personal, home-bearing, encouraging and inspirational about teaching in the female section, many of whom are mothers! The other difference from the Male section is that the Male walls are concrete with no hand-drawn pictures to fill up the space on the large, blank surfaces. However, the Male section seems to always have access to a large combined Annual Graduation gathering of all the courses that have occurred within the previous year, accompanied by photographs taken to prove the event had taken place. With the women, there was no such organized graduation.
So these blessed women organized (at their own meager expense, from their canteen coupons that open once a month in their section) a room, food from their canteen, all laid out with little white lace table cloths, a choir to sing, and they had placed seating, chairs for the guests and for the graduates, arranged in harmonious patterns honoring each section.
There was even a podium at which Head Lecturer P Dyer could speak and we had our graduation along with medals, cups and a quasi-Oscar for the best script. It was a joyful occasion and a memorable one for the 12 people that I was allowed to bring inside the prison with me to witness this special passage of rites.
Another difference that we noticed in our time teaching there, was that we came into contact with many more cases of violence in the Female Section. (Of people who found their way to our program anyway.)
Women are in for extremely long sentences (e.g. 25 years) for violence against their husbands or partners – largely who had abused them. Many of these women leave children behind. This says something extraordinarily painful about our environment, that the only choice they felt open to them was to do physical damage to their partner? As opposed to leaving them? Or getting a divorce? Or reporting assault against themselves to the police? So our social system really needs to step in and do far more work with women in South Africa, in general. That aside, we never, ever felt threatened in the women’s section. We found loving, generous, vibrant, talkative, aberrant, expressive, souls.
We love looking at these sheets. We find them so joyful. We hope you do too.
So here’s celebrating our remarkable Female Class of 2016!
MALE GRADUATION CLASS OF 2015
This was an interesting class. There were some continuing students from the year before, the inevitable drop-outs, and then some new recruits who had heard about the course and wanted to participate. The ones who were continuing were given slightly more challenging work and the ones who were new had more or less the same curriculum as the year before. However, because it was a mixed class I wanted to shake it up a bit and had worked out a whole plan of how I would teach both levels at the same time – as I was only afforded one class a week at the prison – and not two.
So I thought about it deeply, drew my pictures, plotted and planned …
Now there are two differing opinions about how to start writing … Some people start with structure, others with an interesting character that they build everything else around. Previously we had started with structure only, then later moved onto character development. Now we would start the other way around, which would keep all the material new and interesting for both groups.
Now (as mentioned below) in 2014 the prison had been closed for about 3 months when no-one was allowed in or out of it. The reason being that there had been some gang-related warfare, and they could not take the risk of service providers coming in especially if they may be attacked. I was grateful for the intervention but from a teaching perspective it was death to me.
So I formed a way of working that included the new comers, working on 6 month modules. In my time working there I reasoned that in reality it takes about two years to get through material anyway, that on the outside, students would probably take about one year. On the outside one definitely also has distractions, but inside they seem so much more disruptive and heavy. It is a deep, chaotic, painful environment to operate inside. In reality, working inside the prison might seem like a quiet place, but honestly it’s an extremely noisy environment. People are always coming and going from classes, they have to visit their Case Management officers, their doctors, dentists, lawyers, psychologists, go to the loo! Classes are very disturbed. The corridors echo and there is an incessant buzz of things happening outside one’s classroom.
So instead of starting with the structure and I had done for the previous class, I started with character development so that everybody could get something new.
It posed some interesting dynamics with ‘second years’ who didn’t want to share a classroom with the ‘first years’ because they felt more advanced from them. They wanted me to divide the classes but the authorities had only given me one slot so it was impossible anyway. Besides it’s exhausting teaching inside there I needed to keep to my schedule. But in my need to be a good teacher, on top of my work and prepared, I had failed to take care of a basic human need … they needed kudo’s for the previous work that they had done. Very important in this environment because they have nothing else but their dignity. They didn’t want to feel as though they were ‘repeating’ first year. Little did they know that in this creative art-form I was quite capable of managing the two roles.
Even their internal organization, Brand Jo’burg got involved (they had stakeholders, outside funders, office bearers, and chairpersons, meetings to determine all sorts of decisions that one makes on a daily basis inside this village underground) so I was called into a meeting of several verbose office bearers who basically just needed to flout their power against whomever they felt they could.
(Brand Jo’burg had started out as a very honorable organization with good intentions trying to encourage offenders to take training courses and better themselves, but ultimately it became a lobby group to puff out their chests and wield power against the authorities – and in this instance – I was it.)
So I didn’t separate the classes and give them their much needed pat on the backs for having a little more experience than the newcomers, which in all honesty, their certificates for the previous year had been kind and they still had a long way to go to become skilled craftsmen in the task of writing a script in a globally accepted language and art-form, but I learnt a lesson about teaching inside the prison, it was not so different from outside, always respect their dignity its all they have. I have always treated writers work with integrity so this was another level of understanding.
So the office bearers left the group, and discouraged others from joining. The one’s that stayed were thrilled because they got almost private attention. There were thirteen of them. But walking down the corridors was an uncomfortable mix, there were moments when I felt threatened in 2015.
But the stories were great! They had definitely improved from the previous year. The ‘elders’ of the group helped the newcomers and I got some magnificent stories that came out of that year. Some extremely talented writers too and the first group had improved so dramatically, even people whom I never thought would become writers surprised me. I think they even surprised themselves too.
The class became a very loved place to be for the participants. They called it ‘the coca-cola room’ because it was so sweet. And from my perspective as a teacher, it felt very safe. Blessed. Washed and healed by their love and gratitude. I watched people learn to become more vocal about character analysis, society, speak out changes or choices that people can make in their lives. It became the ‘safe-space’. Whereas outside of this room no-one really knew who their friends were, my students admitted that if they see people from the Screenwriting coca-cola room, they knew they had a friend outside, that they were ‘safe’. This was big. I loved teaching this class. We had a good year.
There are celebrations at these activities with offenders singing and dancing!
2014 was a big year for Greenlight District Project. It was the Pilot year for this innovative and extraordinarily inspirational project. It took one year of teaching ‘blind’ negotiating for the right contacts and contracts, without any real background or understanding of the prison circumstances in 2014 Greenlight Foundation NPC (GF) was born. Quality Assured by DCS (Department of Correctional Services) annually ever since, in both male and female sections.This Graduation occurred in 2015.
At the Certificate bearing ceremony the were festivities, prison bands, singing, and general festivities. The offenders did all the decor themselves, organized the whole thing, even frames for the certificates.
It had taken me about a year to negotiate with the powers that be within the Department of Correctional Services to persuade them that this project was a good idea. Not only would it be knowledge and give offenders a skill and possibly income-bearing possibilities in the future, but when creating characters in film, one is required to look at all possible sides of the equation. The good the bad, the inbetween and the extreme (the negation of the negation for those who are familiar with the film writing guru’s). Film can assist with developing critical thinking, emotional maturity, analysis, self-esteem, dignity, and who knows we can watch a whole nation of storytellers emerge.
The dream was that the offenders who choose to study (and by the way some are allowed televisions and computers in their cells under certain conditions) would be able to keep their minds sharp and alive instead of rotting in a cell somewhere. Wouldn’t that be nice instead of watching a nation deplete into the depths of depravity, crime, xenophobia, corruption and nepotism?
I was Quality Assured by the Board and I was on target! The program started. There were challenges but by the end of the year the offenders themselves gave me a certificate … it was such an honor it felt like I had just won an Oscar.
Of course the students were completely unaware of the challenges I faced as a screenwriting lecturer and mentor. Everyone was looking to me for guidance and I had no idea what kind of stumbling blocks would manifest.
The biggest issue for me as a lecturer of Film was that because the offenders do not have the stimulation of seeing the world from the outside. I reasoned there were two areas that needed development:
1.) To develop the imagination. 2.) To develop their memories!
Many of the offenders I teach are maximum offenders, which means that they are convicted for 10 years or more – if someone has been inside for 10 years or more and if they came into the system when they were quite young, then how on earth was I going to resolve the problem of how to access those memories that have not matured with age at a normal pace as their other friends would have done?
I especially feel for the younger ones in their twenties – when their friends are out and about sharing drinks with their choomies in a pub somewhere, having girlfriends, studying at Universities and Colleges, they have no consciousness of what those conversations or stimuli might be.
I set to work … I am pleased to say that I have developed a system of techniques whereby I get them to imagine through closing their eyes and dreaming of being in certain places. I create a scenario for them of being in the ‘bush’, in the ‘Kruger National Park’, or we ‘go to the beach’, or visit a ‘spa’, or go to a ‘hardware shop’! Whatever it is that we are doing I try to incorporate as much of this work as I can. I need to develop the techniques even more. But it is the only way I can think of to get them to travel without physically being able to do so.
They watch films set in various locations, in other countries, so that even if they are not traveling physically, I am giving them a little input somewhere that hopefully will be significant.
As I started working with these men, I watched their consciousness change, their faces even changed! They became more alert, and started developing a sense of the power of words. To some it even started dawning on them that they could have a voice even while incarcerated. The program was working!
During the course of the year, Greenlight District Project developed a Foundation called GREENLIGHT FOUNDATION NPC. There were four initial Board Members: Ashley du Plooy (Chariperson), Sydney Hadebe (Secretary), Moeneefa McKenzie (Treasurer) and myself Philippa J Dyer as CEO and Founder Member! So even when the prison was closed down for three months because of some bad gangster blood inside there (not my guys but other people) – there was no turning back.
Registration finally came through about mid-February 2015. And my first class of 2014 emerged victorious. I had some students already with degrees, a couple with Honors and even one pilot!
Because of gangster troubles through the year, though, we had been shut down for too long to complete the curriculum for that year, so I had decided that they would have to finish in June 2015. As a result I devised a series of six-month Modules to accommodate the changing structure. So if all went to plan, they would gain a first year equivalent when they had completed Module 1 & 2. Second Year would be 3 & 4 and third Year 5 & 6.
So for this year – Class of 2014! It was a big deal. A symbol. An icon of success. A reminder of achievement that regardless of adversity these souls are on a self-actualization journey – they are weighing in and being tested by the course of time. They have achieved and they have become successful.
Kudo’s to these men who have chosen to be something else even though society has rejected them. The project continues from strength to strength. And next year (2016) it has been approved to take on the women.