Correctional Services Minister Sbu Ndebele meets the Dancing Pencils Team

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Felicity Keats with Minister Sbu Ndebele and eThekwini Councillor Sam Kikine

This week’s excitement came with an invitation from the National Minister of Correctional Services in Pretoria, Mr Sibusiso Ndebele, to attend the  opening  of Qalakabusha Secondary School and FET college in Empangeni’s Correctional Services campus.  Included in the programme was the launch of the  three  books written by the Westville  Prison Medium B Correctional facility  Dancing Pencils Writing Club.

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Felicity Keats explaining about right brain writing.

I was accompanied by Councillor General Sam Kikine and his son Sandile. We were most kindly picked up at 7 am by Mr Japie Taljaard, Area Coordinator Development & Care Durban (Director) of Correctional Services in Pietermaritzburg, and driven to Empangeni. After a very comfortable and pleasant trip,  we arrived and were taken to a beautifully decorated room and provided with refreshments. We were also given  a neck piece  to  verify who we were . This is the first time in my life I have had a ticket with VVIP  on it. Very Very important person!  Thank you, Correctional services.

Tour of the New Education Site

After tea the Minister arrived and we were taken on a tour of the new education section. Here instruction is given to offenders in various subjects –  the Minister feels that offenders  who get correction whilst incarcerated need to  include education of all kinds – skills development is high on the agenda and he feels that offenders who leave with an examination certificate in one hand and a set of new skills in the other, will make a positive contribution to the country and keep their minds on improving their lives and earning in the process, making the life of a criminal no longer attractive.

Once we had toured the new education centre, we went outside to witness the unveiling of a plaque for  new FET college and another plaque at the secondary school which are both on the premises. The minister spoke with pride of the achievements in matric of their students. The Department of education is connected with the college and the secondary school.

Need to Provide Offenders with a Dream of a Positive Way Forward

I heard the Minister being interviewed by eTV who were asking if the expense was justified. In reply the Minister was vehement in the need to provide offenders with a dream of a positive way forward, and provide them with the teaching and training necessary to achieve these goals.

After touring the FET college and the secondary school, we were led to a large marquee tent in which there were rows and rows of chairs, all occupied by offenders in deep blue overalls. Scattered amongst them were offenders in orange overalls from Westville prison as 19 of the Medium B offenders  had been transported to Empangeni for  this occasion.

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Correctional Services Minister Sbu Ndebele shakes hands with one of the inmates.

A wonderful programme was in place with speeches by erudite people and entertainment provided by staff and the offenders themselves. There was music, singing, dance, poetry recitals and the speeches including a great motivational talk by the Minister himself.

Praise for the Men in Medium B

I had a five minute slot in which I praised the men in Medium B for their contributions of stories and poems. I also had on display the four new novels we have in proof form. Khulekani Kmganjwa from Westville had the honour of handing over to the Minister a set of three books which all the writers had signed. This will be a significant reminder of talents unearthed and thanks given by offenders to the department of correctional services for supporting the ongoing writing initiative that had its beginning in the HR department of the SABC invited Nhlanhla Nxele and myself to do a project in the prisons last year in April, with the outcome of publishing.

I am happy to have been given a beautiful wooden wall clock to thank me for my contribution to the programme and to know the clock was made by offenders who were improving their skills. A number of clocks were given to the various speakers on the programme and I will treasure mine.

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Felicity Keats shakes hands with Correctional Services Minister Sbu Ndebele.

I was also invited by Japie Taljaard to visit again at the prisons and to tour the Westiville FET college and junior facilities. In fact, it was suggested that we might extend our teaching initiative to the junior section in which many young black males may have tales to tell that will act as therapy and bring forth exciting stories for us.
It was also encouraging to know that we are on the right track as the Minister stressed the importance of offenders  reading books and of writing them as well.

10 Novels and Autobiographies from Westville

We have 10 novels and autobiographies from Westville  Prison Medium B Correctional facility which are in the process of becoming final copies ready for printing. I know more will come!  So there will be reading for offenders written by other offenders.

This is especially so, as about ten days ago,  Nhlanhla Nxele and I visited medium b prisons with another mission … to train one of the offenders as a Mentor which would enable them to have ongoing lessons in right brain creative writing, given to them by one of their own.  The mentor chosen was Khulekane Mganjwa  ….It took two hours, in which he repeated to me what I had taught him.

He does have experience of what it is like to  have a mentor(myself)  press buttons so that ideas flow, and now he will take the same stance and train new prisoners and old  prisoners who are writers now,  in the skills of right brain writing.  He will give them a deadline of middle of May to submit one story each and again we will create anthologies for them.

I was also approached by a prison security guard who has been 20 or 30 years in the prisons and has great stories to tell of the old Indian jail … I am making a plan to give him right brain skills so they can get these stories out and onto paper.  They will surely be of great interest to many people!

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