A photojournalist was blown away by what she saw in Pollsmoor Prison, but not for the reasons you might think… this is her epic photo journey.

 

Lee-Anne Olwage is a documentary and portrait photographer with a passion for social and environmental issue. She believes in using the power of photography for social change and likes to align her work with NGO’s, conservation projects and organizations promoting social change.

“I believe that as photographers and storytellers we have the power to reframe the world in ways that can raise awareness where needed, tell stories that matter and move people in new ways.”

Olwage photographs people, because she longs to capture the very essence of life and this human experience we all share.

“I observe the world around me through my lens and capture fleeting moments in time in a raw and honest way. My work is always about people. I live to capture the unguarded moment when for a second you can see someone’s soul peeking out.”

The talented photographer has always been intrigued by the notorious Pollsmoor prison. Every time she drove past those high walls Olwage knew that she wanted to get into a place where everybody was trying to get out. And when the photojournalist finally got the chance she was blown away by what she saw but, not for the reasons you might think.

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Pollsmoor is a maximum security prison in Cape Town. The prison was originally built to accommodate 4,336 offenders, but the current inmate population is over 7,000. Overcrowded prisons are a problem all over the world.

“So why is it that we haven’t had much success with offender rehabilitation? And that once an individual enters the prison system they seldom leave? I think its time for a new approach to offender rehabilitation.”

Albert Einstein said: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them.”

SevaUnite introduced The Prison Freedom Project in 2010 to introduce yoga to prisoners. Starting initially with one class at the admissions center of Pollsmoor Maximum Facility in Cape Town, it has expanded to now include classes in several sections, including the admissions center, male juvenile section and the women’s unit.

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They also teach weekly classes at Malmesbury Medium Facility.

Yoga works!

We are all familiar with the many benefits that yoga has for your body, mind and spirit. So why not use it where it can really make a difference? That’s exactly what SevaUnite does. Teaching yoga to prisoners is genius.

You don’t need any equipment or a lot of space to practice yoga which makes it perfect for inmates. This progressive approach towards offender rehabilitation is proving to be highly successful and creates true transformation.

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Yoga has tremendous potential to rehabilitate an inmate and give them the opportunity to become more self-reflective. It reduces stress, aggression, and negativity and promotes good health and well-being. The affirming, healing and rehabilitative benefits of yoga for people living in stressful environments are enormously beneficial.

Yoga has also been proven to reduce re-incarceration rates — inmates who practice yoga, in the form of a system of holistic education like the Prison Freedom Project teaches it, are less likely to re-offend!

“As a photographer I aim to align my work with stories that highlight social issues, but more importantly I look for stories of positive change and finding solutions that work. So when I was finally granted permission to photograph The Prison Freedom Project I knew I was offered the chance to take a look into an unseen world.”

“I entered the prison with many expectations. I was concerned that my presence as a female in the male section would be a distraction and would take the men’s focus away from the yoga class. I was warned by many to be prepared for vile comments and all kinds of harassment.”

“I stood between those very high walls waiting in anticipation.”

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The men arrived and from the moment Olwage met them she was in complete awe of the transformation before her. The profound, positive effect yoga has had on these men’s lives moved her soul.

“They were completely present and incredibly focused on their practise. There was this amazing level of respect for each other and myself. I always knew that yoga would have many benefits for prisoners, but what I saw blew me away.”

“The focus, clarity, peace, respect and calmness I witnessed was something I never expected to see in a maximum security prison.”

SevaUnite’s Prison Freedom Project has managed to transform some of the most hardcore inmates into new people.

“This is the most powerful transformative form of offender rehabilitation I have witnessed. And who would have thought of teaching yoga to prisoners?”

“Amazing!”

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One of the inmates approached the photographer after the class. It was his first time there. She asked him what made him decide to come.

“Prison is such a negative place. When I saw how positive, calm and relaxed the guys were after they returned from the class I decided to see what this yoga was all about.”

“I wanted to feel like they did.”

“He left with this huge smile. What an amazing thing to witness!”

Olwage had a profound experience and realized that true freedom is an inside job.

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Sources: Lee-Ann Olwage

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About the Author

Brent Lindeque is the founder and editor in charge at Good Things Guy.

Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.

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