Pris­on­ers get shot at be­ing stars

Tele­vised tal­ent search is a chance to shine – and learn valu­able skills, writes HE­LEN BAM­FORD

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS -

IT’S USU­ALLY only the more no­to­ri­ous of the “Num­bers” gang­sters who en­joy celebrity sta­tus be­hind bars, but now other in­mates at Pollsmoor Prison have been given an op­por­tu­nity to shine. They have par­tic­i­pated in a tele­vi­sion pro­duc­tion called Jail Star – a kind of Idols for of­fend­ers – which is due to be re­leased to some 66 pris­ons across the coun­try next week.

Dressed in prison or­ange, con­tes­tants dance, rap, re­cite po­etry or sing love songs, hop­ing to im­press a panel of judges com­prised of two war­dens and an in­mate.

As in Idols they have to com­pete for the top spot and earn the grand ti­tle of Jail Star.

But the pro­gramme is not just about fun and en­ter­tain­ment.

It is one of sev­eral pro­duced and filmed by in­mates who are taught skills in tele­vi­sion by the Prison Broad­cast­ing Net­work, a non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion com­mit­ted to re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.

The net­work, run from Medium B, which houses sen­tenced adult males, was started as a ra­dio sta­tion in 1999 by Mar­ius Boaden, who pre­vi­ously worked in the film in­dus­try.

He started off with just a small por­ta­ble CD player and a hand­ful of CDs, but over the years it has grown into a fully-fledged stu­dio.

In 2007, when a tele­vi­sion net­work was in­tro­duced in South African pris­ons, Boaden said he knew tele­vi­sion was the way to go.

He said chang­ing the life of a petty crim­i­nal meant an­other loaf of bread might not be stolen. “But when the life of a mur­derer, gang­ster or rapist is changed, it can pre­vent an­other life from be­ing taken or de­stroyed.”

He bought their first broad­cast cam­era with his own money and launched the tele­vi­sion pro­duc­tion train­ing divi­sion last Jan­uary.

They now have two cam­eras, but only one tri­pod and no lights, so it takes about three months to pro­duce one half-hour pro­gramme.

Boaden said the main pur­pose of the project was skills de­vel­op­ment, but also to pro­duce pro­grammes that were rel­e­vant to of­fend­ers.

“Soapies and sport are the big­gest hits in prison and Jail Star is likely to keep in­mates glued to their screens.”

It pre­sented an op­por­tu­nity for pris­on­ers to let their guard down for a bit.

“They have an op­por­tu­nity to be them­selves in an en­vi­ron­ment that is very unreal. It also helps re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, with the in­mates and war­dens work­ing to­gether.”

As in Idols the judges could be a lit­tle harsh – not nec­es­sar­ily a wise idea when you are deal­ing with hard­ened pris­on­ers – but it was all in good fun.

One judge sug­gested a con­tes­tant “stick to lis­ten­ing to reg­gae rather than singing it”, while an­other scolded a pris­oner for in­sert­ing his own words into a song. They all oc­ca­sion­ally bat­tled to hold back gig­gles dur­ing one or two par­tic­u­larly ex­cru­ci­at­ing per­for­mances.

But Boaden said the pur­pose wasn’t to break spir­its or “do a Si­mon Cow­ell” (the judge on Amer­i­can Idol whose bit­ing com­ments of­ten re­duce con­tes­tants to tears).

Jail Star con­sists of five half-hour episodes in­clud­ing a gag reel. About 35 pris­on­ers took part, but Boaden said the big­gest chal­lenge was that most of the con­tes­tants who made it through to the sec­ond round had been trans­ferred to dif­fer­ent sec­tions or other cor­rec­tional fa­cil­i­ties by the time they needed to film them.

“We also have many re­stric­tions on time, and for some rea­son the power goes out five to six times a day, but we do what we can.”

The net­work had trained 110 in­mates in ra­dio and tele­vi­sion, a num­ber of whom were do­ing well since their release.

“One guy is in China teach­ing English as a for­eign lan­guage and tak­ing videos, and an­other has been a suc­cess­ful es­tate agent in Gugulethu for the past three years,” Boaden said.

Spe­cial As­sign­ment spent two weeks in­side Pollsmoor Prison film­ing the work of the Prison Broad­cast­ing Net­work and talk­ing to in­mates about how their lives have been changed.

The pro­gramme will be screened on SABC3 on Tues­day at 8.30pm.

HANG­ING LIVE: In­mates Robert, left, and Kwanele, who have been taught cam­era skills by the Prison Broad­cast­ing Net­work, filmed Jail Star.

PANEL: Judges war­den Her­man van Wyk, in­mate Quin­ton and war­den Jonginkosi Biko were hard to please.

TAKE TWO: Mar­ius Boaden of the Prison Broad­cast­ing Net­work has been in­volved in prison re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion in Pollsmoor, teach­ing ra­dio and tele­vi­sion skills, since 1999.


JAIL STAR HOPE­FUL: Dane, an in­mate at Pollsmoor Prison, gives his best shot at singing to im­press judges.

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