Originally published on Rising Voices.
The concept of prison diaries is not new. Back in 2001 National Public Radio in the U.S. recorded an intimate portrait of five inmates behind bars using audio journals. British best-selling novelist Jeffrey Archer wrote a three volume memoir called Prison Diaries which was later converted into a play. Last year celebrity Paris Hilton also wrote a brief account of her days in prison.
But what we are talking about here is completely different from all of the above.
Rising Voices second round grantee Prison Diaries, based in Jamaica, will use citizen media tools like blogs, video and podcasts to share the daily journals of prison inmates, allowing all Jamaicans to learn about the realities of Jamaica’s overcrowded prison system with the hope that this will help counteract false ideas generated by the mainstream media.
(Image: CrimsonNinjagirl from Flickr -used under creative commons license)
It all started in 1999 with the S.E.T. Foundation, an inmate driven transformative program that has been successfully reducing the rate of recidivism in Jamaica’s prisons through reform of Jamaican society at its most grassroots level. Through S.E.T., the inmate becomes a constructive player who can contribute meaningfully to society, while the community, in turn, gains a new citizen who can contribute to the process of restorative transformation and economic growth.
Its leader Kevin Wallen describing his vision, writes, “I closed my eyes for a moment and when I opened them I found myself in hell and this is what it looked like, this is what I saw. In order for us to turn this back into the paradise it is is not difficult at all, it’s simply all for one and one for all.”
Kevin Wallen has been doing notable work using motivational workshops within the penal institutions. Jamaica's law and order situation has deteriorated in recent times and it has been branded internationally as the ‘murder capital of the world.’
Kevin points out the goal of the Prison Diaries project:
Much of Jamaica’s culture of crime has been blamed on the popular veneration of gang leaders. The project will attempt to confront this ‘badboy veneration’ by training current prison inmates to blog and podcast.
In their introductory post on the Rising Voices project blog for Prison Diaries Kevin writes:
The S.E.T. Prison Diaries project will allow inmates and ex-inmates to tell their stories so that a greater understanding of the experiences, social and economic conditions which compel them to engage in criminal activities can be recorded and utilized as an authoritative source for studying criminology and designing rehabilitative programs regionally and internationally.
The inmates will primarily generate their own content with the training they have received through the S.E.T program. They will record and edit audio and video clips and these will be uploaded to our blog and accessed by the general public.
More ideas are coming up from the Prison Diaries team:
For those persons who have told their stories on paper and may not want to do a audio or video interview, we have decided to do dramatic readings of their stories which the inmates themselves will edit using the skills they have learnt.
You can learn more about the Prison Diaries project from their recently published press release. Already a few stories have been recorded and will be published soon. We are eager to read the diaries of the inmates. Please keep an eye on the Prison Diaries Blog or subscribe to its RSS feed.