The First Screenwriting Session

First Meeting At Correctional Services Sun City – April 9th 2014

I was nervous, but I knew my way around a bit better this time. Yes, the route to Sun City was not so far away from Jozi … in fact it’s quite simple to get here!

I knew the security battle this time so was able to get my basket of teaching materials through quite effectively.

My contact inside – the organizer of the school – Mrs Moape (not her real name) that everyone refers to as ‘Mamma”. I expected a large maybe quite frumpy woman, but what I received was a large woman yes, but with an ebullience and joy that was unexpected. Beautiful face with long dark hair extentions. I could not have been more wrong. She was pleasant, welcoming, as were the offender liaisons who were allocated to my task.

They were lined up waiting for my entrance, just to show me the ropes …

Beno (also not his real name) thrust a very well prepared document into my hands, which was my profile that he had downloaded from the net! He had included an outline, giving my new class of 50 students an introduction of what my course might entail. Clever. It was perfect. However, the course obviously will change according to circumstances.

The class started and what I thought was going to be a brief preliminary meeting and introduction turned out to be a barrage of questions and answers.

Hungry for knowledge, thirsty for fresh ideas and a new approach, and an appetite for both!

They listened, gleaned, absorbed, gathered as much information as they could to shift them from a dull laborious life into a remarkable one of research, information and enlightenment.

After just a couple of hours I felt like I had already lived a life-time inside there, my voice was getting tired and hoarse, I mean 50 students is a lot to keep engaged for a lengthy period of time and these guys are razor sharp.

Think about it – it makes perfect sense that they should be awake and ready to receive information – they do not go out at night, they do not get drunk, their minds are not hazy from an excessive amount of drugs and various intoxicants. I’m sure there are some that slip through the cracks … there will always be that … but it will not be on the excessive scale as it is outside of the facility.

The lectures are supposed to be 3 hours long. They usually don’t have a break in that time – we did – because I needed to rest my voice, go to the loo, and regroup!

But they must have bladders like a camel, because they usually do not break!.

This is not the kind of facility where you can nip out for a cuppa coffee then dive back into your lecture – you cannot take anything inside – and I mean anything: no water, no coffee, no juice – nothing.

So the only time one can get to sip a … something … is to go to the loo.

I make a mental note to change that in the future. I mean the body is made up of 90% of water, water hydrates the body, including the brain! How are they supposed to think long term without water. So water bottles is definitely something worth looking into.

During the December Holidays I had asked them to submit to me their first assignment:

To create their very own Christmas … What would they most like to do for Christmas?

Would they want to be at the table with their family? What kind of food would there be? What would the decorations look like? What were people wearing? What would their conversations be about? Or would they want to sit quietly at a river talking to their best choomie? Do they celebrate Christmas al all, and if not what would they prefer to be doing? Do they engage in deep conversations with anyone? If so, what would they be about? What advice would they give to their children for the future?

Because I’d had to wait so long for the authorities to approve the project and get the paperwork signed, they handed in their Christmas project, in April!

Hmmm … I’m fascinated to see how they turn out.

There was a guard posted in the room with me. Let’s call him Mr Javu. He came forward at the end of the session and asked if he could participate too – so I got a form from Mr Javu too! He wanted all the assignments also. He got them too. However, I did warn that the project is specifically for the offenders, so they had to have first priority. He understood but wanted to participate anyway. What a joy. Only in SA …

A young guy from the group stayed behind … he had the sweetest face … let’s name him … Sugar. He wanted to alert me to the fact that he is being transferred in the next two months to Pretoria Prison because he’s getting to the end of his sentence and wants to continue there to be closer to integrate with his family again. It struck me how humble and earnest he was about this request and how difficult it must be for offenders in this position – they know they are going to be released – it must be like running the end of a marathon, that is the time when you get weary, freak out, when the ‘game’, the journey, the track, whatever it is, gets too much for you and how difficult it must be to get to that finish line intact without losing your mind (or your life) especially if you’ve had a 10 or more year sentence.

Moreover, how do the other inmates treat you? Do they wish you well and wave you g’bye on your way? I don’t think so … perhaps they are a little envious? I’m guessing it’s the latter, which could give rise to all sorts of misgivings and counter reactions. Oi. It’s almost unbelievable that people actually manage to get out of there alive devoid of war wounds. And I’m sure there are always scars.

So the end of the day drew to a close. During the session the colours of their orange overalls fade into oblivion. In fact, if they did not have their overalls on I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between themselves and others from the ‘outside’ world.

But bidding farewell to my well humoured class … one becomes all too aware of it. I go back to my home, where I can have that cuppa coffee, warm hot and with milk.

They go back to their cells where they get 5 slices of bread for supper.

I applaud my class for taking the time out to learn a new skill, keep their mind active and growing, and embarking on this journey of new life.

Writing Blessings

Pippa Jazmine Dyer