Months of hard work and determination paid off for 12 inmates from the Department of Correctional Services in Meredale, Johannesburg when they were awarded their first year graduation certificates, as part of the Greenlight District Project (GDP), during a graduation ceremony on Friday, 26 May.

Supported by the Gauteng Film Commission (GFC), the GDP teaches film writing to offenders in the Meredale correctional facility, the prison commonly known as "Sun City".

The alternative to crime

The objective is to raise consciousness through the storytelling process and offer an alternative to crime once they are released, but also publish stories and distribute films even whilst still incarcerated.

Speaking at the opening of the graduation ceremony, Chairperson of the GDP Ashley Du Plooy expressed pure delight in being able to see the students graduate describing it as a day to “acknowledge and celebrate the inmate’s works”.

“I believe this programme can help student-inmates change for the better and aid the prisoners in the healing process,” Du Plooy said.

Du Plooy hopes that the works of the students will one day be taken into the public space where the voices of their works will be heard.

A nation of storytellers and not criminals

This was the fourth consecutive year that GDP has been teaching inside the facility and the initiative’s founding member and CEO Pippa Dyer, an actor, musician, publisher, author, film writer, was thrilled about the outcome of the graduation ceremony.

Speaking at the ceremony Dyer said it was important to nurture the writing skills particularly of the offender in a unique, supportive and creative way.

“The dream is to raise a whole nation of storytellers and not criminals,” she said. Dyer believes that there are three target areas in order to achieve this.

“Firstly we must develop the offender’s emotional intelligence and consciousness through the craft of writing balanced characters. Dyer believes that creative writing enriches the imagination allowing the student to rethink life-choices in an unthreatening environment.

The second target area Dyer mentioned is, “the need to develop the offender’s critical thinking by different plot angles and new ways to unpack alternatives to solving crime through solving problems in interesting and diverse characters”.

“Finally it is important to target creating a new healthy income-bearing skill,” she said. “This will not only assist in getting the offender ready for the outside world however it will transform them into more responsible and balanced people in society,” she added.

One of the graduating inmates said the artistry of film writing has challenged parts of her brain she didn’t even know existed. “My life has changed since I have met Pippa Dyer and I am proud to be graduating,” she said.

“Especially since the difficult period my mother passing, this initiative has been helping me heal and deal with the emotions,” she added.