Prisoners act out their own lives

Anthero Bowie in rehearsal.

Pollsmoor prisoners will get their chance to be on the stage when they act in a play about themselves.

The Making of a Criminal: Part 2, is a compelling theatre performance created by Pollsmoor prisoners. It will be staged from tomorrow Thursday September 28 to Saturday September 30 during the See Me – I am Human Indaba at Artscape Theatre.

The cast includes 10 Pollsmoor prisoners – five women and five men – as well as participants from an outreach programme that has a mix of parolees, ex-prisoners and youth at risk. They have undergone intensive theatre training, developed and written most of the script, based on their personal testimonies and histories, addressing the theme of incarceration as a continuous experiment with uncertain outcomes and uncertain outside expectations.

The result is that audiences are treated to a rare glimpse into prison life, the challenges convicts face when they attempt to reintegrate into society on their release and the communities they come from.

The cast is part of the Help I’m Free cultural outreach project – a rehabilitation programme for Pollsmoor prisoners – which has a partnership with the National Institute for Crime Prevention and Reintegration of Offenders (NICRO), the Department of
Correctional Services, the Norwegian Peace Corps, Artscape, UCT and Business and Arts South
Africa.

Help I’m Free production manager Ingebjorg Lingaas says the programme has run for five years here and is based on similar successful programmes in Nor-
way.

Apart from the production, the three-day indaba includes an art exhibition of work by prisoners and parolees, exhibitions by organisations supporting inmate rehabilitation and small businesses established by former prisoners.

“The Making of a Criminal: Part 2 follows on the success of last year’s production, The Making of a Criminal, and gives the participants tools in coping better with challenges in situations in their rehabilitation/reintegration process. It gives them opportunities to build confidence and new ways of reflecting on themselves as well as the society, and, hopefully, motivation to further change their lives away from crime,” says Ms Lingaas.

At a rehearsal at Observatory civic centre, some of the parolees spoke about the production.

Nathan Abrahams, 32, of Athlone, has been in and out of prison 23 times for shoplifting since he was 15 years old and went to a farm school. He is now out on parole which ends on December 11, when he hopes to go to sea on a rig. He has a one-year-old son.

Speaking loudly, with confidence, he says it was hell in Pollsmoor, a dark time, now he’s in love with theatre.

As a youth, he was in love with crime, not caring about anything else. His parents did not bring him up to know right from wrong. One day his dad sent him to buy dagga. He did, then, returning to the streets, he accidentally kicked a ball into a gangster’s face. They beat him, told him that if he could not beat them he must join them. He did. “I’ll never forget that ball,” he says.

In prison, people told him he must not go back (to crime). “You must go back to where you started because that’s your future. Now I want to be a good example for my son. I don’t want my kids in prison for crime,” he says.

The Making of a Criminal: Part 2 is not the first production for Ayanda Tunce, 32, who goes by the stage name 2Sly and lives in Mfuleni. This father of four has only missed one of the performances and says theatre is his life.

He is also a musician and writes his own music and poetry. Ayanda was arrested in 2010 and sentenced to five years for armed robbery, spending half of this on parole, which ended in 2015. Since then he has applied for many jobs only to be told no because of his criminal record, despite passing assessments and positive feedback. Prior to prison he worked in the panel-beating industry.

His message to children is to say away from crime. Rather look forward to your future. “There are people outside who are in prison, into drugs and alcohol. I want a better future, I’m scared, I’ve spent a lot of time trying,” says Ayanda.

Anthero Bowie, 34, from Belhar was 14 when he was arrested for assault and robbery and has been out on parole for eight months with three years to go. While in Pollsmoor waiting for a blood test he saw Help I’m Free giving drama classes. “I joined them. They were committed to me. Now I’m committed to them, they stayed,” he says.

Asked what the audience can expect from The Making of a Criminal: Part 2, Anthero says each actor will tell their own story. “It’s all real, no fiction and brings the way people perceive us as having committed murder, rape, worthless. It’s safe in prison. We’re fed, clean, no worries, safe. But we aren’t free. Being in prison is challenging but going back into the community is also a challenge. We know we did wrong, we made mistakes, but we’ve served our time. Give us a chance.”

Ms Lingaars says guests can participate in a symposium hosted by the UCT’s drama department, which will feature a series of short discussions on the society that creates criminals and gangs. Keynote speakers Alex Sutherland, Don Pinnock and Chiedza Chinhanu will also explore the impact of theatre work in prisons.

Nicro CEO Soraya Solomon says the three-day indaba aims to challenge guests to see offenders as members of our society and to acknowledge that society must be part of the rehabilitation process.

“It’s a crucial role of both civil society and ordinary members of the community in breaking the cycle of crime and violence in South Africa. We cannot reduce the high levels of crime and violence in our country without every citizen’s support to ensure that we find solutions to this daunting challenge,” she says.

Entry to the indaba is free and tickets to the performance can be booked through Artscape at 021 421 7695.