Pictures speak louder than prisoners

Creative life-skills programme Young in Prison displays its outcomes at Word of Art studios in Cape Town.

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Scrawled across a carefully assembled cut-out collage of pristine landscapes and an old martial artist, are the words: “I’m fine with health but deep inside I’m broken into pieces.” This is how 25-year-old prisoner Luthando Nunu chooses to describe himself on his body map recently exhibited at Word of Art studios in Cape Town.

Nunu is part of a group of sentenced juveniles participating in a creative life-skills programme run by Project Phakama and Young in Prison (YIP). The exhibition was the culmination of a series of creative workshops facilitated by Clinton Osbourn and Julia Merrett who, over the past year, have provided a safe and non-judgmental space for young men such as Nuno to express themselves.

Both Osbourn and Merrett are passionate about addressing the limited opportunities for prisoners to be heard, or to reflect on and process their life experiences. “In this environment, they tend to deal with their situation in a self-destructive manner and instead of turning away from crime, many of them get sucked deeper into a spiral of destruction”, says photographer Merrett who believes that this is only perpetuating the problem of crime in South Africa.

Osbourn initiated the project in October 2008 with funding provided by photographer Mikhael Subotzky and developed workshops that engage the young men physically, emotionally and intellectually. “We use different kinds of activities from drama, to drawing, to singing, which also enables us to find out more about them”, explains Osbourn. Osbourn is a member of the Phakama arts-exchange programme involving arts practitioners and young people in southern Africa, Britain and India.

Although the programme is more process – rather than outcomes – based, Nuno was pleased to be given the opportunity to offer the outside a glimpse of what it is like to be on the inside: “I’m happy for people to get insight. It’s not easy to speak with pictures but I feel that it takes me out of the wrong because everything you do is positive.”

For more information or to provide financial assistance for the programme, email

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