Pretoria: About 165 inmates from across the country showed off their musical talents on Friday at the country’s first National Offender Jazz Festival at the Grootvlei Correctional Centre in the Free State
More than 1 500 patrons, including members of the public, correctional officials and offenders, danced the day away as inmates put on display some of their finest renditions.
Delivering the keynote address at the event, Correctional Services Minister Sibusiso Ndebele said that music was an effective means to foster correction, rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders.
The festival, in particular, was aimed at rehabilitating offenders through music, group participation, and identifying offenders’ hidden talents.
Priorities of the festival included encouraging offenders to be part of a group, and adapt to its norms and values – in so doing promoting respect, individual growth and self-discipline.
The minister highlighted the story of Larry Joe, a singer and songwriter, who was released from the Douglas Correctional Centre in the Northern Cape in December 2010 and stepped straight onto a stage in the prison grounds to perform songs from his first solo album, Crazy Life.
In 2008, Larry was invited to perform at a government function in Douglas where he met Aron Turest-Swartz who was performing with Freshly Ground which he co-founded.
“Impressed by Larry’s outstanding voice and the original songs he had written, Aron approached Larry and Correctional Services with a proposal to work with him to develop his skills and produce a solo album. Larry’s album, Crazy Life, was recorded in a single cell in the Douglas Correctional Centre,” the Ndebele noted.
Larry Joe was a living testimony of someone who had undergone a “truly remarkable inner transformation with music being at the very core of this process,” he pointed out.
The minister said his department was embarking on Victim Offender Dialogues.
The objective of the programme was to put the victim back at the centre of the corrections system, as the victim was directly affected by the criminal act of the offender.
“Equally, the offender must be given an opportunity to reflect on his or her wrongs and request forgiveness, he said.
The department wanted to create opportunities for victims of crime and other stakeholders to assemble together with offenders with the single purpose to rebuilding communities ravaged by crime.
“We want to reinforce corrections programmes through music, reading for redemption, creative literature, the arts, cultural events, heritage renewal events, sporting events, formal education and acquisition of skills, economic renewal through cooperatives and enterprise development, spiritual growth and self-correcting interventions, among others,” he added.
Government was passionate about galvanising understanding and support for its transformative agenda from prisons to corrections, as well as preparing those offenders who needed to get ready to be reintegrated as functional members of society. “The emphasis of Correctional Services is on correction, and all of us can be corrected,” Ndebele said.