Thanks to drama classes, discussions and music, inmates acquire knowledge, self-confidence and new opportunities outside the prison walls.
Within the walls of Pollsmoor Correctional Facilities in Cape Town, twenty inmates have been rehearsing since the beginning of April. They have been rehearsing lines and scenes – and the life they will have after prison. "The Outsiders" is based on their own experiences inside the maximum security prison.
Behind the scenes, three FK participants from the Varde Theatre in Norway is following them closely, teaching the inmates to make use of theatre as a tool to make something out of life.
This is my chance
Pollsmoor holds around 8000 of the most dangerous inmates in South Africa. Through drama coaching and counseling, the inmates are encouraged to start a new life outside prison, once the sentence is served.
"In South-Africa there is a saying 'once a criminal, always a criminal'. We want people to see that the x-offenders are ordinary people. People like you and me" FK-participant Stian Olderkjær says.
Twenty inmates, both female and male, have been given a second chance through the project. Through drama and conversations with social worker Katrine Fjørtoft, they are working on developing their skills, empowering themselves and reaching their goals. The inmates who were selected among the many applicants for the project, are thankful to be part of it.
"I am so happy to be part of this," one of the men says. "I feel privileged to have be chosen as one of the participants. This is my chance, and I will show everybody that I am a success."
Challenging the audience
'Help! I am free' is in its second year of FK Norway-funding. The group from Pollsmoor stood on a major stage for the first time last autumn, at the Artscape Theatre Centre in Cape Town. The theatre has turned out to be a substantial partner of the project, and this July they are aiming to repeat the success from last year. Already, they are planning for an additional performance.
"We are hoping that the audience will be challenged in their own perceptions of criminal offenders, and leave with and open-mind on the concept of theatre as a rehabilitation tool," Director and FK participant Terje Halsvik says.
Working with the same methods in Norway
At Norway's Ullersmo prison, theatre is also changing the way inmates see their prospects for the future. Working with the inmates, South African FK-participants are using the same methods as their colleagues in Cape Town. Last year the group performed the much acclaimed Gyntania – a rock version of Peer Gynt.
According to the project coordinator, Leif De Thurah Sørensen, as many as nine out of ten previous offenders who take part in the project, manage to establish a meaningful and decent life after prison.
The participants standing on the stage in South Africa, are also carrying the same dream of a new life outside prison.
"It is amazing to see how we are all connected through this program. Even though we are of different color, we are in this together. We share the same dreams and the same hope," one of the Pollsmoor actors says.
FK-participant Stian Olderkjær was also part of the first round of the projects, and tells us he is proud of what they have accomplished so far. He underlines, however, that have had a hard time breaking through the prison system.
"It is hard to describe what it has been like working in Pollsmoor," Stian says. "We have somehow gotten used to hearing about – and seeing – the miserable conditions under which the inmates are living."
Even though they have met many closed doors, they know feel that they have gained some respect from both the prison wardens and the inmates. Their goal is to build strong, local partnerships that will ensure the existence of 'Help! I am free' after the end of the FK-project.