"You may not be able to fix lives, but if you can make someone feel that their life is WORTH fixing... that is something... something wonderful".
I wish you could meet some of the women we have come to know and love in the Johannesburg Female Prison. The first time I sat and listened to some of the women sharing about their lives, I walked away and wondered how some people survive against such odds. Stories are told and scars shown of every kind of abuse. Again and again I hear how women have grown up with abusive fathers, uncles and stepfamilies and so many of them marry men who just continued the abuse in their lives and eventually their children's lives. Until one day, they snap.
Some women have struggled with extreme poverty, trying to raise children with no financial or emotional support until being a drug courier became the only option they could see to maintain their families. Others seem hard and unyielding at first as they talk about money laundered or expensive cars stolen, but eventually, as they begin to trust, they acknowledge their sense of failure and start to weep over their feelings of shame and remorse.
Before I started visiting the prison, I wondered what the women would be like. I wondered if they would be dirty and smelly or uneducated and if they wore orange uniforms. I had so many questions. Of course the answer is obvious. They are just women. Some are big and some are small, some are black and some are white, some are tall and some are short, some are beautifully dressed with their hair and make-up impeccably in place, while others clean the long corridor floors and seem to have lost part of themselves in their own personal struggle a long, long time ago.
All of them, like us, long for love and acceptance, and, like us, each becomes more herself when treated with respect and dignity.
This is what we try to do with our Heartwork Personal Growth Course, which is offered to groups of 25 women, by a team of six volunteers over 12 weeks. In this course there is time to learn new communication and interpersonal skills, as well as anger management and confrontation skills. There is also time for healing and for growth. An opportunity to start again.
The process of Restorative Justice is introduced during the course and we offer continued support for those interested in pursuing this difficult but necessary process after the course has ended. The response has been so encouraging.
We also run a programme of ongoing support and development for the women who have completed the Personal Growth Course. This programme includes all past participants and is run in the form of monthly seminars, covering some old topics more deeply and including new subjects as well. Restorative Justice will continue to be a significant part of these exercises. We plan to run the first session of this programme on 10th April this year.
There is a way we can make a difference in the lives of these and other incarcerated women, and, while we are at it, change the picture of crime in our country. If these women are able to leave prison more whole and more skilled, they will have so much more to offer their families and society.
The women are desperate for opportunities to change and to grow, and there are lists of women waiting to get onto the course. They stop us in the corridors and ask when the next one will begin and what they can do to get onto it.
This is an opportunity to make a real difference, but we need you to partner us in this effort. The prison officials are eager for us to run three courses a year.
We hope that you will decide to join us and help these women to see that their lives are worth fixing _ that is something_ something wonderful.
Postal Address: PO Box 4327, Randburg, 2125, South Africa
Phone: 082-961-4074 (International: +27-82-961-4074)
Copyright © 2002-2003 Debbie Jones, HeartWork (Last updated on 22 June 2003)