Phoenix Zululand:


Restorative Justice Programme

An iconic drawing is displayed at the Phoenix Gallery

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

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.


All the world’s a prison …………

February 10th, 2012

"Prison and home: across the street from each other"

[Click on the drawing to download a larger picture on your computer.]

Phoenix programmes, particularly those such as Conversations in Families” & “Family Conferencing”, are routinely showing that the ways in which prisoners think about their homes are critical to the making of an emotional and practical flexibility in all members of their families; this flexibility will make a considerable difference to whether or not  social reintegration happens after prison. It is often characteristic for prisoners to suffer severe amnesia about social identity with respect their own homes. Families also begin to forget that they have members incarcerated.

In this drawing, prison and home are shown to be similar institutions, merely “across the street from each other”. The idiom by which both are depicted is the same in each case. The perimeter fence of the prison and the forbidding enclosure of the home are homologous.

 How are we to tease out the thinking embedded in this drawing?

Perhaps it is this: after a while, prison ensures that the creative imagination collapses and the idea of liberty has no positive use in the minds of most prisoners. One is reminded of the creeping infection of the prison outlook, and perhaps of the kind of attitude exemplified in Hamlet:

What have you, my good friends, deserv’d at the hands of
Fortune, that she sends you to prison hither?

Prison, my lord?

Denmark’s a prison.

Then is the world one.

A goodly one, in which there are many confines, wards, and
dungeons, Denmark being one o’ th’ worst.

We think not so, my lord.

Why then ’tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or
bad, but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison.

In prison, one learns that the world is a hostile place, and the prison fabricates in mental outlook a desolating emptiness, which assimilates to itself  ideas of home and communty.  This ensures for many that a return to prison on subsequent criminal charges is inevitable – “the world is nothing to you, and you are nothing to the world”. That is the reality of recidivism.

The idea of “rehabilitation” or ”corrections” has been universally shown to be one of societies’ grandest yet most absurd beliefs.


Amy Leo is working on the Phoenix Gallery

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

Nonceba and Nathi presented a paper at the ISS conference at the end of 2011

February 5th, 2012

Nonceba (Director) and Nathi (Deputy Director) presented a paper at the ISS conference at the end of 2011.

They regard this as work in progress and are preparing it for publication. They welcome comments. Please contact them directly, or through the link on this web site.

Download the paper as a PDF document by clicking on the link below.


Nonceba Lushaba:

Nkosinathi Shandu:


Link to the paper:

Paper for ISS Conference _2_


Siyabonga (Funkie) Zungu and Evelyn Cresswell

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

An unusually large Family Conference

January 29th, 2012

Nonceba, Nathi and their team facilitated an unusually large Family Conference on Saturday 28th January at a rural prison. The conference was notable for the way older women, mostly mums, took a leading role in deepening the expressive potential and honesty of the exchanges between their families an their imprisoned men. What was also exceptional at this Conference was the way so many of the participants reflected on the strong sense of communiity that had developed so very quickly between all the families attending the Conference. Out of this came repeated expressions of familial responsibilty for the care and socal reintegration after prison. The reproving comments were there aplenty, as always. But so too were expressions of love and unconditional regard for the imprisoned men; the Conference heightened these kinds of statements.

The last part of all Phoenix Family Conferences is for all to assemble for a group photograph. Photography is an essential part of Family Conferencing, firstly because it memorializes and celebrates a tumultuous event in the lives of the families, but also stands witness to the undertakings from all sides with respect to the future, especially in the prison context which can be so damaging to the ordinary workings of memory.


Imagine you are a prisoner, part of a Phoenix group, and for some weeks you have reflected on the meaning of your life in "Starting with Us", and then prepared for a Family Conference in the programme "Conversations in Families". How will you speak to members of families, some of whom you have not seen for a long time? What signs can you give them of your vulnerability and of your urgent need for help in getting back on your feet after prison? These kinds of questions will be daunting. However, in one small way, you can show your keen expectation of the Family Conference by painstakingly laundering and pressing your prison uniform, and shining your shoes - the picture is poignant in that it shows how the range of options available to prisoners to express themselves materially is severely limited.


Some members of the Phoenix Facilitator team are caught in a moment of repose during the Family Conference. Both the preparatory programmes and the Conferences are very demanding emotionally. Faciltiators are constantly alert to the need for the right kind of medation at any one moment when prisoners get together with their families. In the photograph are Ntombi, Thembalethu, Sebenzile, Lamo and Father Meshack. The Phoenix team can accomplish a great deal in the 4-5 hours available to them during Family Conferences: over the months and years, large numbers of people have left these conferences with a feeling that their mutual life-crises have been elevated to both importance and manageability, and the feeling that they "have been heard" - they have been lifted from the desolation of social anonymity. Thus the stigma and humilation of having someone in prison can become an ennobling human drama. The Phoenix team has built up a repertoire of considerable skills.




Geoff Harris has recently presented a conference paper based on his Phoenix evaluation report

January 27th, 2012

The Director, Nonceba Lushaba, with the Chairperson of the Phoenix Board, Professor Geoff Harris

Geoff has recently presented a conference paper based on his evaluation report. His report may be viewed here:

Phoenix evaluation report

Lamo Jama’s inventive work with men in prison

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.

Ikhwezi Radio Station broadcasts interviews with Phoenix personalities

January 18th, 2012

Radio Ikhwezi has conducted interviews with some members of the Phoenix team. These were broadcast during January and February 2012.

Thembalethu Nhlebela and programme presenter, Nosiphiwo Buthelezi, are seen in the picture. In an interview with Nosiphiwo, Thembalethu discussed her struggle for acceptance from family, having been in prison and the stigma that follows former offenders. She told of hope and the journey to feeling accepted, loved and needed. She spoke of her work as a Phoenix Facilitator and the challenges and triumphs of delivering life-skills programmes to inmates.

The interview was broadcast on 28 January and 4 February 2012 on IKhwezi FM at 12:30pm.


Themba in an interview at Ikhwezi Radio Station



In the next  picture are Ida Gartrell, Nosiphiwo Buthelezi the programme presenter and Mzi Ndlovu the assistant producer for dramas at Radio Ikhwezi. Ida discussed her work with “Voice Beyond the Walls” and how radio drama is created and performed. She speaks about the value of the process and how drama can bring coherence to the stories of people’s lives and lead to a deeper understanding of what it is that brings them to prison.


The first half of her interview was broadcast on Saturday 14 January 2012 at 12:30 and the second half was broadcast on Saturday 21 January 2012 at 12:30 on IKhwezi FM.


Ida Gartrell being interviewed by Ikhwezi Radio


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