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Workshop turns prisoners into artisans

Written by Noluthando Mkhize
Vocational training at the Boksburg Correctional Centre is skilling prisoners and preparing them for life outside the prison walls.

Baking bread is the order of the day at the Boksburg Correctional Centre’s workshop where offenders are acquiring skills in baking, welding, woodwork, upholstery and textiles.The prison has a workshop where inmates learn to bake, sew, as well as work with steel and wood. Here the hands that used to hurt, steal and kill are put to work.

At the workshop, the rich aroma of freshly baked bread, coupled with the sound of drilling, fill the air.

Inmates are busy at the workshop, which is separated into different workstations for the bakery, woodwork, steelwork, upholstery, textiles, powder coating and spray painting.

Twenty-two men, dressed in white uniforms bearing a prison stamp, mix, roll and weigh dough in the kitchen.

A typical day starts at 6am when inmates start producing the first batch of 2 000 loaves of bread for the 5 000 offenders at Boksburg and Heidelberg Correctional Facilities.

It was while working here that Skhumbuzo Matiwane, 34, says he learnt patience and to control his temper.

Matiwane was convicted of house breaking in 2008 and has served four years of his 11-year sentence.

“After I completed matric I never found a job and I chose to steal. This is the first time in my life that I have had to wake up and go to work. It feels good and gives me a sense of accomplishment and purpose. A month after I was convicted, I was given an opportunity to do a course in the basics of bread making. I have never looked back.”

Matiwane says his skill will come in handy once he leaves prison.

“After I’ve served my sentence I would like to start my own bakery and contribute to society.” All the offenders working at the bakery have undergone accredited training in the form of a basic bakery course offered by Sasko, explains Gauteng Correctional Services spokesperson Ofentse Morwane.

By using its own facilities and labour to produce bread, Correctional Services saves about R2.4 million a year, Morwane adds.

Each inmate undergoes Occupational Health and Safety Training before they start work.

The Boksburg Correctional Centre Workshop is also accredited by the relevant Sector, Education and Training Authorities.

The workshop’s steelwork section makes palisade fencing, security equipment, prison beds and garden chairs.

These are sold to Correctional Services’ clients, which includes the South African Police Service and the Department of Water Affairs.

Here 44 offenders, in protective gear, are hard at work.

Jimmy Makwala, 34, proudly shows off the steel bed bases he has assembled. They will be sent to correctional centres around the country. He was arrested for armed robbery seven years ago and sentenced to 17 years imprisonment.

“I can now assemble about 20 beds a day. It’s very exciting to learn a new skill,” he says.

John Mthebe, 44, who is serving a life sentence for murder and armed robbery, works in the textile section, where about 1 000 prison uniforms are manufactured daily.

“When I came to prison I did not know anything about sewing. I am glad to have a skill. When I am released I will have something to fall back on and not commit a crime again. I would also like to urge the community to allow us back into society and welcome us. We have paid for our wrongs,” he says.

Lebo Luvuno, 27, who works in the woodwork and upholstery section, is optimistic about his future outside of prison.

“This skill that I have acquired no one can take it away from me. I didn’t know that there was so much I could do with my hands. When I leave prison I will look for a job save money for capital and then start my own company.”

Luvuno has completed seven years of his 15-year sentence for armed robbery.