Inmates turn writers scripting their journeys in Dubai

Sarwat Nasir/Dubai
Filed on January 13, 2020 | Last updated on January 13, 2020 at 10.15 pm

(Juidin Bernarrd/KT)

A total of 27 female and male inmates were part of the festival initiative for two years under the guidance of author-mentors.

A collection of personal stories written by convicts spending their term at the Dubai Central Jail will be brought out at this year's Emirates Airline Festival of Literature.

A total of 27 female and male inmates were part of the festival initiative for two years under the guidance of author-mentors. Their writings were put together in a book titled Tomorrow, I Will Fly. It will be released on February 6 at the 12th edition of the festival.

"The authors taught them how to love reading and spend their time productively. They then did workshops to teach them how to write," said Lt-Col Jamila Khalifa Salem Al Zaabi, director of the Dubai Women's Jail. "What we discovered was that 27 inmates had the talent of writing and their work is now being published. The initiative has helped them find themselves and they feel new. We haven't jailed them just so they can be handcuffed, we want them to learn and prepare them better for the outside world. They can go to school and college."

Authors associated with the festival have been visiting the prisons every month for the past two years to promote books and help them with reading and writing.

Lt-Colonel Al Zaabi said it's been helping the prisoners improve their mental health as many of them have been writing down their personal journeys.

Major-General Abdullah Khalifa Al Marri, Commander-in-Chief of the Dubai Police, said:

"The responsibility of the Dubai Police is significant and varied in terms of means to protect and care for human rights, and what we offer to the inmates at the penal and correctional institutions is an excellent opportunity to reflect the bright image of the state in this field.

"The cooperation between the Dubai Police and the Emirates Literature Foundation comes within the framework of caring for inmates. The project Tomorrow, I Will Fly is one of the means that support inmates and aim to organise visits for international writers and residents in Dubai to the correctional institutions during which the writer communicates with the inmate through the language of writing and books."

Annabel Kantaria, one of the authors that conducted the workshops and helped the inmates with their writing, said the title of the book was inspired by a Ugandan inmate who flew in an airplane only once in her life, and that was when she came to Dubai.

"It's one of the most touching stories. She was born and raised in a remote village in Uganda. They didn't have electricity or roads and she had never been to a big city," Kantaria said. "She got a job at the airport. Her whole family dropped off at the airport, but then she ended up in jail. Her writings share her journey."

Emirati to dispel UAE urban myths

An Emirati author is on a mission to dispel stereotypes about the UAE, including foreigners believing "everyone from Dubai is rich" and that "Emiratis are unapproachable".

While Roudha Al Marri's 101 Misconceptions About the UAE Explained book will be available only after the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, her previous book, UAE 101 will be available at the festival. "I've listened to many stories of misconceptions that people have. They come from different ages, backgrounds. They've just moved here or have been here for a long time. Some common ones are that everyone is rich or everyone who lives here is rich," she told Khaleej Times.

"Some people abroad think that anyone from the UAE lives in just Dubai. There's one story of a lady who moved here in the 70s. She was scared to go to any Emirati house because she was told they'd offer her the head of a goat and she'll have to eat the eye.

She refused to go to any Emirati's house until I told her that's a misconception. We are hospitable and like sharing our culture with the people, but of course, we aren't going to force them to eat a goat's head.

"I think the way you get rid of them is by just talking and clearing it up. People often feel awkward or embarrassed to ask. That's why I wanted to share it in an easy way. I think we are considered rich and, yes, we do have privileges. But the misconception is to a point where some people think we have a petrol tank in our backyard. It's been a fun journey to listen to the stories. I'm trying to pave the way for people to feel integrated and at ease of speaking to one another. Sometimes the image is created that an Emirati cannot be approached or that an Emirati man shouldn't talk to an Emirati woman."

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