Vedaaranya Heritage Arts and Healing Festival 2016

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Gert Hurkmans


Little stories, great hopes

The aim of the project is to make prisoners look back, encourage them to reflect about their past and at the same time prepare them to re-plan their future “beyond bars” by making them write. Writing helps you explore and express your inner self, it also helps you to remember memories and it allows you to sort out your thoughts and feelings.  These written pieces incorporate feelings as well as facts, and the authors' own insights are an important part of the finished essays. The therapeutic value is life-changing for the prisoners, most of them have never experienced anything like this. Their expression and experience is suddenly being valued. They suddenly realize that they can and should pay attention to their own feelings and their own thoughts. This project also aims at encouraging prisoners to enjoy this creative writing and be stimulated by collaborating, by listening to and learning from each other. The fruits of their writing often contain similar elements, ranging from frustration and fear to delight and intense creation.  The writing of one’s own reminiscence, and having written these up and published, has a power and impact which is greater than just telling. Prison writing helps prisoners to understand themselves, to voice their hopes and desires, to reflect on one’s own past and future life “beyond bars”.  They are also stimulated to open up and share their writings with others.  They listen, learn and communicate about it. Next to the socio-psychological aim, there is also the linguistic approach.  Writing – for some in their mother tongue and for others in a foreign language - is an avenue through which the “healing process” begins. Something inside is unleashed and a creative literary embryo develops into a “competent” narrative. Sad memories and a hint of optimism are often combined to turn melancholy into joy and productivity, showing the restorative and rehabilitative power of writing. The results of each autobiographical workshop is disseminated to all penitentiaries involved in the project and published on the web