In Depth Project

Gender Justice – 28/09/2012

The first day of preparation for in-depth was when we found out what the theme for this year’s project –the justice system.

The first thing that came to mind was: “this topic could not be broader”.

The sub groups are social Justice, economic justice and gender justice. Although I really would have loved to be in Economic group mainly because my story interests are usually about the economy and how it affects every aspect of society, I was placed in the gender justice group.

I have always had a passion for the way the economy or financial state of a country define it. The economy of any country is a reflection of all of its aspects such as its governance, infrastructure, education, science, health system, sports and other social aspects.

While I don’t have a clear definition of what gender is yet. I have started on a journey to finding out what gender justice has to offer me in hopes that the definition of gender will become clearer to me.

My topic is the relationships of female independent prison visitors with male inmate at the Sun City Prison.

I have located an IPV who has been doing this for 10 years at many prisons and was excited to meet with her until this morning she cancelled the meeting I scheduled with her for this afternoon because it was raining badly. She was very apologetic about her cancellation I was very disappointed because I would have hit the ground running but like my mentor, Nechama, said: “these things do happen”.

I am still excited to meet Martha, she has an interesting energy about her.

I am getting keener about the topic and am hoping to stumble upon some mind-blowing information to fuel the enthusiasm I already have for the subject.

Gender Justice – 01/10/2012: Day of Enlightenment

My third day of research started off with making several phone calls to interviewees for my story. I managed to secure three interviews two for tomorrow. The first one is with former inmate and prison human rights activist Golden Miles Bhudu. The second is with Policy, Advocacy and Research Specialist for Sonke Gender Justice, Emily Keehn. My third successful phone call was to former inmate Vusi Mofokeng who agreed to an interview via email.

Today was day full of lessons learnt. My first lesson was that the name IPV Independent Prison Visitor) has been changed to ICCV (Independent Correctional Centre Visitor). This is the first lesson she had in store for me. Prison is no longer used as a word describing these facilities because of the stigma attached to it and those incarcerated.

Correctional Centres are accepted terms are used because they are places for the correction of offenders.

Second lesson: the word prisoners is not used anymore, they are referred to as inmates again to alleviate the elements of stigma attached.

I had my first interview with my IPV and this meeting that was rescheduled from Friday was well worth the wait. Her 10 years experience in her line of work was evident in the way she spoke about her profession. I got more hooked on her story with every revelation she made about her work. This woman, like many other in her group, is phenomenal simply because she has a passion for rehabilitation.

I walked into the meeting with no expectations and walked out with more than I bargained for. Now I have a better understanding of the role these women play their job.

Overall, I was educated beyond my expectations and look forward to speaking with one inmate whom she says is also changing people’s lives from inside the correctional centre.

I am at the end of my day and I feel a little anxious about tomorrow’s interviews and the rest of the project but in the same breath I am excited about what the rest of the journey has in store for me.

Gender Justice – 02/10/2012: A day of interviews

I felt better about the emotional interview I had with Martha that made me cry yesterday. I was assured that it was ok to be emotionally overwhelmed when doing a difficult story and that it would be worrying if I wasn’t moved at all by it. All the information I received from Martha was a firm foundation for the interviews that I had today.

First I spoke to Golden Miles Bhudu, an activist for prisoner’s rights. He has contact with several inmates who call him from cellphones they are not mean to use to ask for help. I was fortunate enough that while I was talking to him he received a phone call from an inmate from Krugersdorp, asking to for help in getting a referral to a facility closer to his family (he gets no visitors). He also asked for help because he has HIV/AIDS and is not getting proper medical attention. Because Miles put the inmate on loudspeaker, I heard their entire conversation. Miles gave this inmate the phone number of the PA to the Correctional service’s minister and before he hung up he told him to share the number with “the others”. Miles gets such phone calls frequently.

My interview was also fruitful because Miles gave me the contact details of an inmate at Johannesburg prison who might be able to provide me with photographs showing prison conditions. In addition, he also referred me to a female ex inmate who is a source for photographs.

There was a Special Assignment episode last week about an inmate who is very ill and was receiving very little medical attention. I contacted the producer of the episode to find out where I could access the footage to view it and she hasn’t gotten back to me.

My second interview was with Emily Keehn from Sonke Gender Justice who does a lot of work about the JICS and the work they do. She also works closely on health issues in the prisons specifically HIV/AIDS. She was able to give the contact details of someone who is involved in an HIV/AIDS awareness campaign at Johannesburg Prison.

I have secured an interview in Centurion tomorrow morning with Murasiet Mentoor who heads a group of ICCVs to get his views on their work.

Basically I have spoken to and am speaking to a lot of people for my story *sigh* but I am going to take Carolyn’s advice and try to write a nut graph with the information I have so far to narrow my focus and avoid being overwhelmed.

Gender Justice – 03/10/2012: Midday progress

I have managed to contact a few of my sources. Julian one has promised to send me the photos showing prison conditions. I’m holding my breathing and hoping for an email with awesome photos really soon.

I managed to get a hold of the man who is part of an HIV/Aids campaign running across several prison including Joburg Prison. He asked for me to call him a little bit later. While I wait, I’m reading up more about my story and getting more and more enlightened.

Adel who produced last week’s Special Assignment episode about ill inmates in prison has not gotten back to me about viewing the video footage but I am patient.

The process is not easy but the learning process makes up for it….

Gender Justice – 03/10/2012: End of the day

Image sourced from Google Images

I’ve just come back from an interview with a former inmate with two members from the Economic justice group. I felt that I should use my time wisely while waiting for responses from the people I contacted earlier today.

T, the interviewee, had a lot to share with us about his experience in prison which gave me wonderful examples of the kinds of living conditions the inmates live under.

He also said he had never heard about ICCVs in the prisons he was at.

Although T was never held at Johannesburg prison, examples of his experiences were useful information because they highlighted the fact that prison living conditions are a problem all round.

He related an incident when he witnessed a strip search conducted by the warders who suspected that an inmate had a gun. He says they barged into their cell and used their weapons to assault them (knobkerries, the butts of guns). They barged in with sniffer dogs.

“Some men sleep in their underwear or completely naked … Imagine being made to stand naked in front of a female inmate who tells you to spread your legs for a search.”

Although he is not a character for my story, he gave me content to add texture to the examples I already have from the JICS annual report and Martha’s testimony.

The road trip with Simmi and Akin from team economic justice was worth it.

Overall, I am still waiting for Julian to send me the photos she promised. Adel from Special Assignment still hasn’t gotten back to me so I still have my fingers crossed.

I definitely need a new diary just for this project just to write down appointments and contact details…

Gender Justice – 04/10/2012: Suprising offer

I had an interesting day of research today. Save for some disappointing responses for images, it started off with a great phone call from Mr Mentoor who heads up a group of ICCVs. He gave me useful contact details for people who may be able to help me with information regarding complaints handled by JICS. He said to speak to Melanie Hartz ( who could be of assistance to me.

There will be ICCV meetings taking place on Monday and Tuesday at 9am and he has offered me the opportunity to sit in as an observer at one of these meetings so I can get the opportunity to see a component of how the ICCVs work.

Mr Mentoor also said that I should contact Mrs Grootboom from their legal services directorate (0124211012) for more information regarding legal matters dealt with by the JICS.

He also suggested, however, that I liase with these contacts after the ICCV meeting on Monday so that I have a better perspective of their work.

Overall, the story is taking its course with all the expected glitches. Although the progress I am making is exciting I am also a little nervous about the writing process in that I don’t want my final product to be a diluted version of the story thus losing all the texture.

Albeit nerve wrecking, I am also relying on my awesome mentors and colleagues for the necessary guidance.

Gender Justice – 05/10/2012

Today was really a day of making phone calls and preparing for the meeting I have on Monday as well as planning out my first draft.

When I set out to work at the lab this morning I had no idea there was going to be an entrance exam being written by next year’s prospective students. So while I waited, Lisa and I started mapping out our stories on the board. This was a great idea because it helped Lisa realise what voice she was still missing from her story.

MAPPED OUT: My plan of action

Some of the tension I accumulated about my story was relieved by the storyboard I created, where Lisa also helped me identify important points that I should remember to include in my story.

The characters for my story are defined but I still feel strongly about including an inmate or former inmate, a member of staff at Joburg prison who interacts with the ICCVs (eg. Social worker, medics, warder), in addition to my main character.

The way forward for my story is that I peg the topic onto my pivotal characters. I’ve also realised that another function of my article would be enlighten people about the work of ICCVs -people don’t know about them. I can’t make the mistake of assuming that people know who the JICS and ICCVs are and what their mandate is in South African correctional facilities.

My story needs to serve many purposes without diluting out the umbrella topic: Gender justice.

I’ve collected all the equipment (cameras, voice recorder) I need for my meeting on Monday in the hopes that I will walk away from it with bucket loads of information and an extra pinch of passion.

Gender Justice – 07/10/2012: Information Overload

The preparation for tomorrow’s interview with Mr Mentoor and the meeting I will be attending had a lot to do with me reading the reports I’ve received.

First, the JICS annual report (2011/2012). I’m more than halfway through this document and although a lot of the information is useful to me, I am worried that all I can get from it for my article are general breakdowns of the types of complaints received from certain correctional centres. None of these centres are the Johannesburg correctional centre which is my main focus. For instance, in the term 2011/2012 72 inspections took place across the country the results of which are reflected for 10 correctional centres that don’t include Johannesburg.

The nature of relaying complaints is also confirmed in the JICS as was explained  to me by my ICCV and Miles.

Although the findings from these prisons are useful because they back up the information I have already gotten from my sources, they are not specific for my correctional centre.

My reason for basing my story on one facility was to narrow the story which I felt is representative of many centres in the country even though many centres don’t have ICCVs working in them as yet. I do however, have a better understanding of the structure of the JICS and its power in correctional services which is also enlightened further by a research paper sent to me by Emily Keehn from Sonke Gender Justice.

It is a review paper of the JICS that highlights amongst other things the shortcomings of the ICCV system. The research was conducted by interviewing several ICCVs, members of society and sentenced inmates from several facilities. Some of the findings are interesting as they touch on the role of the ICCVs and their effectiveness in handling complaints and carrying out inspections.

The paper was written in 2004 so some of the information may be outdated like statistics and so forth but it was useful for contextuality.

The inmate, A, that I was trying to get a hold of whose contact details I was given by Miles has responded. The number I tried to reach belongs to an ill inmate from Sun City, T, whom A was trying to help.

He says A has been transferred to a different centre because of his involvement in his ‘case’. This story was made public about two weeks ago.

I have prepared my questions for Mr Mentoor and hope I cover all my bases. I don’t have much time left.

I have a long day ahead of me and can only hope that it’ll be as conducive as should be.

Gender Justice – 08/10/2012: ICCV meeting

The opportunity for me to attend an ICCV meeting was today. This was also my first visit to Johannesburg prison and I actually enjoyed it. I had the privilege of sitting in the meeting as an observer during the formalities and when their meeting was concluded I was given the chance to address my questions to them.

Image sourced from Google Images

Firstly, I really wanted to know what the conditions they worked under were. The three female ICCVs and their VCC (who is a former ICCV) present at the meeting had quite a bit to share but their main concern was the risk to their health because of the ill inmates they were in contact with.

The fact that they were comfortable sharing all they did with me left me awe struck because we were complete strangers to each other at the beginning of the meeting but at the end, they were as open with me as they could be.

The ICCVs at this meeting work with awaiting trial detainees. The diversity in the experience these women have helped to show the comparisons in the different sections they work in. This information I used to compare also to the information M (who works with sentenced inmates) shared with me. I noticed that although some of the complaints they dealt with were similar, others were different. This was the case especially with juvenile offenders compared to sentenced adult inmates.

Image sourced from Google Images

The producer of the Special Assignment episode about the inmate at Johannesburg prison who is ill got back to me today and sent me a link directing me to the footage online. She also offered for me to come into her studio so I can watch it in one of their booths but I don’t think I’ll have the time to.

I have a lot of information to consolidate for my story and I am still in desperate need of an inmate to speak to about his interaction with female ICCVs.

There’s another meeting scheduled tomorrow for ICCVs working with sentenced inmates. I would have loved to attend the meeting so I can meet the other women but it doesn’t seem necessary seeing as I have a mountain of information to plough through already.

Gender Justice – 10/10/2012: I have a title!

My biggest victory today is that I have finally come up with a title that will work for my story. “oMama beziboshwa” (mothers of inmates). I felt excited even when I said the title because the ICCVs that I’ve spoken to said their inmates saw them as mothers regardless of their age.

Finding a headline feels like getting an epitomy…Image sourced from Google Images

These women are there not only as “watchdogs” but in their maternal capacity especially to those whose families want nothing to do with them.

The exact quote “mama weziboshwa” was reiterated by two ICCVs on seperate occasions. The first time I heard the phrase was during my first interview with one of my ICCVs, who said the inmates she helped called her that which was striking to me – heart warming. She works with many hardened criminals who despite what they’ve done, still feel the need for maternal love.

It’s not that these women have dubbed themselves as mothers to these men but that their work speaks for them. The passion with which they do their work is what earned them this title despite the challenges they face working in such hardened environments.

What I also found interesting was that their personalities were of a ‘soft’ nature (I say this without sounding condescending). Although I was a little nervous when I first sat down to speak to them, I didn’t feel as intimidated by them as I thought I would nor was I overwhelmed by a type of power I assumed they had because of the type of work they do.

Although they have important jobs that also require that they have an authoritarian approach, they were patient with me and availed themselves to assist wherever they could despite the fact that the first time they knew about me was when I was introduced to them by Mr Mentoor, just before the meeting started.

One of the ICCVs I met with yesterday agreed to have me film her journey throughout her day. So I will get footage of her while she gets ready for work and follow her until she gets to work.

She has asked me not to film her face for protection of her identity which is something I have accepted. So thursday morning I will go to her home in Pimville and take a trip with her to work.

Today I also finally got a hold of Moipone from Fear Free Life who has directed me to Lebo Kekae (0786498042) who deals communications. Lebo has promised to find me an inmate who may be able to speak to me about his experience with ICCVs while he was incarcerated.

I also called Khulisa and was told to call again tomorrow morning when the relevant person (Yvonne Ncube) would be available.

I called Nechama’s contact who is a former inmate, Vusi Kweyama (0723571185), and his phone was off so I left him a voice message and will call him again tomorrow.

Carolyn has also given the contact details for former inspecting judge of the JICS.

I just remembered a phrase that I’ve heard many people say for years: “too much of anything is bad for you”… It seems highly appropriate with the bulk of information I have received at this point. Despite this however, I’m optimistic…

Gender Justice – 11/10/2012: Unexpected Blow!

My day started off well today. I mainly made follow up phone calls to the sources I contacted yesterday who had said to call them again. These were fruitful.

Lebo Kekae from Fear Free Life managed to give me the numbers of two former inmates who had interacted with ICCVs while they were incarcerated. First, G, who I managed to get a hold of this evening. He said he was more than happy to help and would speak to some of his fellow former inmates whom he was sure would be willing to speak to me. I am meeting with him on Friday.

When I called C (former inmate) his phone was off.

One appointment that I was very excited about was the one I had set up with my ICCV who agreed to let me film her journey from home to work. When I called her to confirm our meeting, she said she wouldn’t be able to participate. Even with her face hidden, she felt uncomfortable being on camera – her worry was that her clothes and voice would be easily identified by people from DCS. She was keen on helping me but was later convinced by some of her colleagues not to.

This cancellation was after I called the three other ICCVs asking to take photographs of them and they agreed. I was all set to go to Pimville first thing tomorrow morning. I had booked out a camera and planned my shooting storyboard when she cancelled and it was too late for me to arrange for the same type of appointment with the other ladies.

So my multimedia plan has gone up in smoke until I can come up with something as exciting as the idea I had.

Gender Justice – 12/10/2012: A little glimmer of light

The weight that the disappointment I got from one of inmate’s cancellation has been lightened off me. I spent some time editing the sound clip I got from Miles Bhudu and will be able to use it as a component of my multimedia section. My meeting with a former inmate has been confirmed for tomorrow. Judging by how my meeting with him goes, he said he would try to get some of his friends who are also former inmates to participate for my project.

My list of characters has been expanded. I had a successful phone call with former inspecting judge of the JICS, Judge Deon van Zyl. We are going to have a telephonic interview tomorrow where he will answer my questions as best as he can.

I can honestly say that I am feeling exhausted at this point but I’m keeping on for the sake of the project and all the people who have lovingly afforded me their time in assistance. I am brainstorming visuals as I go and hope it all comes together.

I’m not feeling very chatty today, maybe I’m saving my writing energy for my In Depth article. It needs proper tweaking to make it a good representation of the information I’ve received.


Gender Justice – 16/10/2012: Working on Multimedia

I walked into the lab yesterday feeling less anxious about my multimedia component. Atleast that was until our new multimedia mentor, Eva told me I had to go back to prison to take photos of M walking into the correctional facility to portray (visually) the transition between her life at home and her life at work. I love that idea except it’s impossible for me to carry out without getting caught and most probably arrested. I know this all too well because I went there on Saturday (hyperventilating nad sweating) and I was told blatantly that I COULD NOT take photos of the gate. I had to get permission from the commissioner if I wanted to do that.

Jan (from my group) says I should probably take photos from a distance and use the special lens to get as close a shot as possible. That would de a great idea if M was keen. When I first asked her for permission to take photos of her walking into the gates with her colleagues she warned me saying that it was criminal offense and she would not advise that I did that.  

Submitting my second draft yesterday felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I did my best consolidating a lot of the information I got from all the interviews I conducted and the information I got from research. I just hope I did a good job portraying the essence of the work that these women do and the environment they work in while showing the positive impact of their efforts.

The next hurdle is getting all the images I need that portray prison conditions to give people a visual of what “inhumane prison conditions” and what a South African cell looks like.






2 thoughts on “In Depth Project

  1. U are doing such a great job, im reading this document and i say to my self wow! Inmates have people who care much about them. I would love to get the copy of the mother of prisoners, or to get its footage.

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