Polishing theatre gems in prison

Takudzwa Chihambakwe —
HURUNGWE Arts Festival director Joel Zilala and his team want to address educational rehabilitative needs of prison inmates in Mashonaland West.

Dubbed “Chance to Change”, the initiative will culminate in a competition bringing together the six prisons in the province. The Sunday Mail Leisure got in touch with Hurungwe Arts Festival director Zilala to learn more about the initiative.

“‘Chance to Change’ is a project which was created in an effort to address the educational rehabilitative needs of both male and female inmates. It is a plan for skills acquisition designed for inmates to successfully re-enter society.

“The programme also offers the selected offenders an alternative to traditional prison confinement. A highly defined holistic process of supervision, education and programming is employed, which enhances the offenders’ successful re-entry into society. The programme capacity is 15 inmates per prison. There is a minimum of 30 hours of programme activity per week,” explained Zilala.

He added: “This plan is compatible with correctional and rehabilitation goals and is based on research that shows that educational programme access, especially in the area of theatre arts training, contributes to a reduced recidivism rate because employment opportunities are greater when specific skills are acquired close to release.”

Zilala said that the programme made inmates more marketable when they sought employment upon release.

“The programme is designed for convicted offenders who would have served much of their sentence with one year to go. A continuation of the educational component upon release is required in order to ensure that the ex-offender continues to gain the skills necessary to stay out of prison,” he said.

He also highlighted that the goal of theatre training was capacity building to tackle problems related to policy and methods of development while considering the potential limits of the society concerned.

“This is a continuous and adaptive process of gathering, organising and formulating information into action, to be communicated face to face, thereby preparing a production that is acceptable by the society. A model script will be produced for all prisons.

“After the training sessions we will have with the inmates, we will host a competition, which will be the final process of bringing together all feasible productions from the six prisons to the Hurungwe Arts Festival to determine and raise awareness of demand for this particular development objective.

“The competition stage will involve enlisting the participation of such actors, including institutions, identifying, raising and managing human and material resources, thereby increasing and strengthening self-reliance and sustainability of achievement,” explained Zilala.

Besides the prison outreach initiative, Zilala and his team are also working closely with primary and secondary school students to prep them for their annual theatre competitions to be held during the Hurungwe Arts Festival.

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