Class of 2014!

2014 was a big year for Greenlight District Project. It was the Pilot year for this innovative and extraordinarily inspirational project. At the Certificate bearing ceremony there were festivities, prison bands, singing, and general festivities. The offenders did all the decor themselves, organised the whole thing, even frames for the certificates themselves.

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 Robert McKee). 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 offenders who choose to study 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 beyond into depravity, crime, xenophobia, corruption and nepotism that we become storytellers instead? (BTW they are allowed televisions and computers in their cells – not all of them have it – but there is a system of reward, and if they misbehave then punishment. So if the prize is a computer and they really want it the chances are they will comply with the rules in order to maintain their priveledge).

IQU2Film was Quality Assured by the Board of DCS 9Dept Correctional Services) 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 was winning an Oscar.

Of course the students are 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 is that because the offenders do not have the stimulation of seeing the world from the outside, there are two areas that have needed my attention:

  1. To develop the imagination.
  2. To develop their memories!

Think about it – I teach 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 are 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 ‘outside’ peers and 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 close their eyes and imagine 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.

I also believe that if I show them enough films, set in various locations, including in other countries, that although they are not traveling physically, I’d like to believe that I am giving them a little input somewhere that is 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 are four Board Members: Ashley du Plooy (Chariperson), Sydney Hadebe (Secretary), Moeneefa McKenzie (Treasurer) and myself Philippa J Dyer as CEO!

So even when the prison was closed down for three months because of some bad blood inside there (not my guys but other people, gansters and no-one ws allowed in or out of the prison in that time) – there was no turning back.

Registration finally came through about mid-February 2015. And my first class of 2014 emerged victorious. I have some degreed people in there, a couple of Honors Students and a pilot and a Captain!

Because of the trouble 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 have devised a series of Modules every six months. So all going to plan, they can gain a first year equivalent when they have completed Module 1 & 2. Second Year will be 3 & 4. And third Year will be 5 & 6.

So this year – for this class of 2014! It was a big deal. It is 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. One is not allowed to show their faces so have tried to be respectful ad choose only pictures where their faces are not visible of at least are unidentifiable.

The project continues from strength to strength. And next year (2016) it has been approved to take on the women. I am super excited about that. We will see where it leads me.

Viva. Alluta continua!