Phoenix Zululand:


Restorative Justice Programme

Archive for the ‘Phoenix team updates’ Category

Lucia Trimbur from CUNY visited Phoenix in August 2013

Thursday, August 15th, 2013
Lucia visited a number of sites in and around Eshowe including the Dhlinza Forest Boardwalk

Lucia visited a number of sites in and around Eshowe including the Dhlinza Forest Boardwalk

Lucia participated fully in an extraordinarily intense programme during a visit to a Zululand prison. August 2013

Lucia participated fully in an extraordinarily intense programme during a visit to a Zululand prison. August 2013

A frequently experienced phenomenon in Phoenix work is the enduring and pervasive quality of the trust that Phoenix facilitators are able to engender; this makes it possible for visitors to join prison groups in a very transitory way — provided that they are with the Phoenix team — and yet be able to to rely of the trust that has been hitherto established. This is possibly testimony to one of the most important educational and developmental processes we see happening in prisons. It is never easy for prisoners to trust others, let alone comparative strangers. The social conditions from which most come, and their experience of the criminal justice system, makes their vulnerability an important factor with which we have to work as a living reality.



Nonceba and some members of her team attend a Colloqium at the Constitutional Court

Monday, May 21st, 2012

Sasha Gear, Programme Director of Just Detention, and Nonceba Lushaba in conversation at the Colloquium


The Wits Justice Project hosted a colloquium entitled “It Could be You” on 17th May at the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg. The presenters all reflected on the experience of imprisonment from their different perspectives.

Ancillary to the Colloquium is a superb exhibition of photographs (continuing) of ex-prisoners taken by David Goldblatt. The photographs were all taken at the scenes of the deeds that got them jailed and each is accompanied by a brief text describing the event to which the photograph refers. Behind Sasha and Nonceba in the picture above is a photograph of Bongani Sithole, for some years a musician Facilitator with Phoenix.

David Goldblatt in a presentation at the Colloquium described his project and what it meant to him.



Nonceba and Ida once again host a group of SIT students

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

 More photos from the progamme in the prison will be posted soon. Please come back.

A group of SIT students listen to a presentation by Nonceba the day before their programme in the Eshowe prison started.

Ida Gartrell writes as follows:


Twenty-six students from the School for International Training, and thirteen inmates from the Eshowe Women’s Correctional Centre attended a two day workshop, run by Ida Gartrell, on the 14/15th March 2012.


Using Drama, Movement, Breath, Voice and Discussion participants were taken through various processes which focussed on Identity, Stories, Choices, Leading and Following, Observation and Relationships. Finally through “Image Work” (Augusto Boal : Theatre of the Oppressed) their two-day journey allowed them to identify how they arrived at that moment. (i.e. S.I.T. students visiting a prison in Eshowe, and inmates incarcerated in Eshowe Prison.)


“Look at yourself right now and identify how you got from where you were to where you are today. I am sure there have been a series of specific steps that you have taken on your journey that have brought you to where you are at this minute. You are where you are because of yourself. It has been your choices and your decisions over the months and years that have brought you to this very moment.”


As individuals,in pairs, in small and large groups, discussions were held, games were played, physical exercises tried out and finally basic understanding was reached of their similarities and differences – the choices that set them apart, and what defined themselves as people – their humanity.


The workshop ended with an hour of delightful entertainment by both groups. My thanks to Pretty Nsibande, Thembalethu Nhlebela and Lamo Jama for assisting me.


Family Conferences are happening continually

Monday, March 5th, 2012

Lamo Jama and Deuty Drector Nathi Shandu facilitated an extraordinarily original Family Conference last week.


Lamo – together with a Phoenix visiting artist, Annemarie Beukes – introduced the Conference by asking inmates to speak to the attending families about self-portraiture they had accomplished in the preceding weeks. It proved to be a wonderful way to get things going. Each man, as he spoke about his own artistic work, revealed things about his own past and the way he had come to think of himself, his vulnerabilities and the way he now sees unfolding opportunities, in the present and after parole. As several said, they had never tried to do anything artistic before, and this exercise served as a superb metaphor to help them understand the largest of all possible projects: the revision of their own lives in relation to their families.

It was very noticeable to Phoenix Facilitators how much members of families responded to an evidently new kind of emotional expression and way of speaking from their imprisoned members of their families. The value of this lies in our being able to show that prisoners are capable of extending ideas of what it is to find a way back to family and society after prison. It is far more that merely expressions of contrition – it goes into what it is for an ex-prisoner to be once more a creative contributor to the collective health of the communiity of family and friends.


Well done Lamo; we were all deeply moved.

The beginning of a a Family Conference: who am I?

A man speaks about how he thinks about himself as he explains his own self-portrait.

As usual, the families gathered for a group photograph after this emtional event during which we felt there had been palpable reconciliation between inmates and their families.

Families gather for a photograph before a few tears and sad goodbyes. But there was elation at the prospect of parole in the not too distant future.


As always at our Family Conferences, the Phoenix was there: a referential touchstone for all present:

Arise, once more, brightness in our lives.

[Refer to the next post.]

Nathi Shandu and Lamo Jama at the Family Conference

The Phoenix

Sunday, February 12th, 2012

The Phoenix: a painting done by a long-term prisoner who was deeply inspired by his experience of the Programme. The painting is large, and is executed on A2 paper.


The name of the Programme has been unexpectedly and triumphantly apposite in the nine years that the organization has worked in Zululand’s prisons. The ancient  myth of the beautiful bird that immolates itself and then rises  from the ashes has been told again and again in the prison programmes, in a thousand different contexts. It has been thoroughly appropriated in the telling of so many life-stories. It has been drawn, painted, and modelled in clay. In Family Conferences, it has very often become the mythic template by which families mould their own specific narratives.

This widespread public resonance with the myth may have several explanations. The most intriguing suggests that this ancient story, alien in cultural provenance, is potent beyond its thematic relevance. The story “speaks” to people about the universality of their predicaments in falling foul of the local law, resulting in incarceration. In other words, it is the fact of the myth deriving from a different age and culture that gives it its local symbolic power: if you come to understand that the story of your messed-up life is foreshadowed by the criminal actions and pedicaments of others in different cultures down the ages, in a significant way the burden of culpability and guilt is ameliorated, and you can set your mind upon a putative resurrection from the ashes of your life.

Those who name their programmes of social action by reference to the local vernacular (in the laudable pursuit of being “relevant”) miss this vital point. The name of a social programme should, in our view, suggest the universal human connections within the social and individual problems with which we all try to grapple. To be imprisoned with a total loss of liberty  is a catastrophe for the human spirit, and this desolation should be connected to the unfolding human drama through all ages that prizes freedom above all other values.

For us, the Phoenix continues to be a wonderful symbol.



An iconic drawing is displayed at the Phoenix Gallery

Sunday, February 12th, 2012


Some of the Programme’s most forceful examples of prisoners struggling with their futures are astonishingly articulate in artistic terms about the hurdles lying ahead in the future. The task of rebuilding self-image under the immense force of social obloquy is brilliantly grasped in the following picture.

The "empty" prison cell

The sparseness of the cell reflects emotional desolation and the apparent impossibility of finding a creative way back to society after prison. The drawing’s most poignant thought occurs in the image in the mirror. The idea here was by no means fully formed in a verbally explicit way at the time of its frst display. It was when the drawing became a catalytic opportunity for discussion within the group that both artist and others started to grasp what had been drawn.  “Before you present yourself to the mirror”, said the artist in statements that came finally to be formed under the influence of the social commentary, “it has a predetermined idea of who you are, and you feel that you will be forever trapped in your own denigrating self-image”. “The mirror is society”, echoed the group, “ever present in your prison cell”. “There is nothing to look at that might help you to think differently”.

The ascription of a denigrating intention to a mirror on the wall is psychologically astute.

The gated door: the door made for me

Saturday, February 11th, 2012

The gated door: this drawing has been in the Gallery for a few years.

The drawing is elliptic and puzzling. The effect on the group in which it was produced was dynamic and resulted in new levels of self-expression amongst all the participants – this social effect of art within the prison group is the key to its stature, as in so many other examples of prison art. The drawing started to yield its burden of thought slowly in the prison group in which it was done, evoking considerable interpretative intensity along the way over several days. The artist himself, inarticulate in verbal, discursive ways and frequently prone to violence, seemed at times puzzled by his own drawings. A consensus in the discussion emerged in the group, to which the artist himself finally subscribed – this became its “meaning”:

“I come to a gated door. That door is made only for me and it is there to block my way forever and there is no hope. No hope – until I learn to call forth from within me all the power I have left. Then, as I stand before that iron gate, the cold iron starts to dissolve, and for the first time, I think I can walk through those bars. I hope I can take the first step into my resurrected life.”

 The metaphor of the force of personality making iron dissolve seems to offer a paradox: “we are the damned forever”, or “we could embody undiminished hope”. The intensity of the paradox provides the drawing with its interpretative energy. One can look at the picture and decide that the bars are newly forming to jail the subject in perpetuity, or, at another moment, one might decide they are beginning to dissolve. It is the conditionality of the latter perception, given the immensely disabling circumstances of imprisonment in the mental frameworks of people, that stands ready to cast a deep pall of pessimism over the way one might view this drawing.  Yet, in the art group in which if took its social meaning, the participants saw its key to lie in hope.


Amy Leo is working on the Phoenix Gallery

Friday, February 10th, 2012

Amy is modifyng the permanent display. New themes are being introduced, and new ways of displaying some extraordinary works of art.

We are choosing for display mainly art that has featured in papers and conference presentations.

Amy Leo at work in the Phoenix Gallery

Siyabonga (Funkie) Zungu and Evelyn Cresswell

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

Phoenix Peer Facilitators – Facilitators who are themselves serving prisoners – have played a crucially important role over the years  in the life of the organization. They have recruited groups and performed a range of special tasks in addtion to facilitating Phoenix programmes.

Phoenix must of course give Peer Facititators themselves utmost support: this covers several aspects, from the mundane like keeping up a constant supply of stationery, to the more complex tasks such as developing their skills as facilitators.

Evelyn Cresswell, poet, philosopher and educationst, has been at the forefront of supportive activity for Peer Facilitators.

Funkie Zungu as  Peer Facilitator has run almost all aspects of Phoenix programmes, in addition to performing in “Voice Beyond the Walls” radio dramas. He has been assiduous in pursuing his own university studies. He also has the utmost support of his mum and dad; his mum is  a nurse and his dad is a recently retired long-term employee of Foskor in Richards Bay. They visit him regularly.

Funkie and Evelyn



We heard today, Sunday 5th February, that Evelyn has suffered injury when she slipped on ice while visiting her family in Canada. We wish Evelyn speedy healing of her fractured leg. Get well, Evelyn, and come back to Zululand soon.


5th March: Evelyn arived back in Zululand last week. Welcome back Evelyn, and we hope your leg continues to heal well.

Non & the team


Funkie and the photographs:

Nonceba & Richard spent a pleasant afternoon in the prison with Funkie reviewing his work and the challenges we have in offering him constant support as a  Peer Facilitator. One subject touched on was that of publishing a picture of him in prison uniform, as we have done above in this post. Ordinarily, on this web site we do not mention the the names of prisoners or the the prisons where they are serving sentences, and always pixelate faces so personal identity is obscured. As Funkie said, it is is hard to openly face the full glare of publicity about your status as a prisoner. He described how much thought his peers give to facing people in the future when there is widespread public knowledge of their past as offenders with prison records. A particular anxiety concens how one is to face that inevitable question in a job application or interview “do you have a criminal record?”

However, in the exchange of ideas that afternoon with Funkie, we agreed that there will be ways for him to speak of his own past, including that of having spent some years in prison, in a way that both emboldens him and shows that he owns all aspects of his life to positive and creative effect.

[Notes by Nonceba]

Funkie and Nonceba, Director of Phoenix Zululand

Lamo Jama’s inventive work with men in prison

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

Lamo has worked with men in prison over a number of years. She has an extraordinary ability to win their trust and therefore to enable them to grapple with the challenges they will have in returning to their families.

She has also established herself as a trusted mediator between prisoners and their families. Lamo often speaks about her own experience of being a prisoner, experience which helps her illuminate the difficulties faced by others. She is one of several Phoenix star Facilitators.

This week, Lamo has been using role-plays to enable her prison groups to anticipate the reactions of families and friends when they return home after prison.

Three men play various roles of members of a family as they improvise an imagined scene upon homecoming. A valuable aspect of this exercise is that participants learn about each other's families, and they are thus able too lend each other insights about how to manage the negative perceptions so many have to confront .


Lamo in discussion with her prison group before they go to work on their improvised and dramatised situations about problems they imagine to await them when they return home. The working space available in prisons is always limited. Lamo has triumphed over such physical limitations.


Lamo herself participating in a dance session with American students and women prisoners, a session which she helped to facilitate.


Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: