My first time in prison....

Recently MEP was visited by eight design students, who were tasked with running a design workshop with our MEP class. Not one of the visiting design students had ever been in a prison before and they all shared about their fear and anxiety to visit young men in prison. After the visit each student shared about how they were deeply moved and impacted by our MEP class. Read below about one of our students perspectives about the visit and the impact our students made upon her.

"I am Venelee, a multimedia designer who, thanks to the message, had an amazing experience visiting Drakenstein prison. I was fortunate enough to be contacted by MEP to help them design a premium brand for their “gangstar” gear.

As I set off to embark on this journey I found myself filled with anxiety and fear for what may lie ahead, not knowing what to expect. Images of what I’ve heard and seen from prison, flashing before my eyes. Walking in there took a fair amount of courage since all I could think about was to turn and run.

The prison itself already surprised me. It was clean, well maintained and it almost felt like I was walking into a well barred hostel.

When we were greeted by the prisoners I was still very scared, thinking there are 27 of them in the room and basically only 7 of us. However, they greeted us in a well-mannered fashion. It was also quite the odd experience walking into a service already being held and a prayer to come. For some reason, a calmness washed over me almost as if God was telling me to stop having fear in my heart, but to listen and open my heart for these men.

Still not completely understanding my sudden mood change, the time came to talk to the prisoners. I was soon to realize that all of these men had more will to change in them than any person I had ever met. These men had more dedication than I had ever seen, and they seemed closer to God than I have ever been able to get. It was clear that these men came from harsh backgrounds and there was no denying that they had done horrendous deeds in their life that only God could sympathize with and decide on pardoning or not.

To me that was not what mattered, what I was interested in was their future dreams, their outlook on life, and one of the prisoners gave me a glass shuttering statement that I will never forget in my life, he told me that society has the idea that prisoners as people that should rot in prison and that the keys should be thrown away. He told me that it was the hardest thing for him to even break thinking that this statement was not truer, and suddenly it all came apparent to me.

A prison is a correctional sentence, focusing on rehabilitation. It is not a place where hope is lost, but rather a place where hope is born. A place where new people are made and futures are being created, truly a place of change. It is thus not a place one gets condemned to, but a place one gets the opportunity to turn your life around. Unfortunately this is not the general truth in South Africa, with prisons being places where gangs start rather than to be stopped. MEP however are there to change this.

I hope to spread the positive message of MEP and Gangstar by creating a design with a cause. 

Written by: Venelee Coetzee