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Breaking the Stigma of Conviction: Ex-convicts Lead New Documentary in Senegal

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— 3 minutes reading time

Above: Youth from Dakar, Senegal, have created their first documentary, ‘Weesu Ne’, about the struggles and stigma ex-convicts face after release. 

Jasmeet Sahotay, Coordinator, Young Cities

A new documentary to raise awareness about the stigmatisation of conviction in Senegal – produced by and starring ex-convicts – is about to be released with the support of Young Cities, Africulturban and the municipal authorities in Dakar. With four screenings planned to specifically target young convicts themselves, as well as city officials, families of convicts and the general public, the group hopes to help other young convicts to find a better life for them upon their return to society.

Young convicts who have recently been released from prison face a great deal of stigmatisation when attempting to integrate back into society. In Senegal, these challenges are especially pronounced.  Young ex-convicts often find that their relationships with their parents are strained, the latter often stigmatised themselves by their communities and extended families. It can therefore feel like there remain few options for education, employment, potentially leading many youth ex-convicts to be made homeless and/or turning back to the cycle of petty crime that drove them to prison in the first place.

YUMA, an organisation of ex-convicts and young activists, understand these issues all too well. Having been released from prison, they developed their photography and videography skills, and are currently applying them in raising awareness of the problem of the stigmatisation of conviction in their community in Dakar.

With help and support from our Young Cities progamme, and our partner in Senegal – Africulturban – they have produced a half-hour documentary following the lives of young people upon their release. It explores – through a series of interviews and testimonies of convicts, families and police officers – the challenges facing young convicts, why and how wider society stigmatises them, as well as some recommendations as to how youth can lead a ‘normal’ life after prison.

“I want to move forward and live a life earned with my own hard work. I want to change my life direction and I will not stay put while doing nothing. I want to do things Senegal will one day talk about”Quote from a young convict, in ‘Weesune’

Above: Members of YUMA filming the documentary in their local communities in Dakar, Senegal.

After receiving local acclaim with their first preview, they are now planning screenings at cultural centres, film festivals and a local youth detention centre to reach and target those most affected by the subject matter.

The powerful nature of the documentary has led us to extend their campaign time frame from 6 to 8 months, providing additional funds, and showcasing their great achievements.  We dedicate this article to them and their determination.

While creating a documentary has met its fair share of challenges, from a tight time schedule to the limited technical experience in filming and post-production, YUMA have risen above all of them. Securing the support of a professional editor through the Young Cities campaign grant mechanism, they have created one of the most inspiring campaigns we have seen to date.

While the campaign has met its fair share of challenges, from a tight time schedule to the limited technical expertise in filming and post-production required to make such a long documentary, the youth participants have risen to them. And with the help of a professional editor, identified and funded through the Young Cities campaign grant mechanism, they have created one of the most inspiring campaigns we have seen to date.

Of course, the campaign wouldn’t have been possible without the support from the municipal authorities in Dakar. They have been essential in securing the authorisation to film in prisons and police stations, have written letters of support in order to gain first-hand interviews with officers, and have attended the screenings.

As leading examples of how youth can engage in issues that matter to them, as well as how cities and youth can work together to support each other to curb social injustices, we are proud to support YUMA in continuing to deliver their message across Dakar and, in the future, more widely in Senegal.

We look forward to sharing the documentary with you when it is available for public viewing in April 2020.