Guest Blogger Mimi Norwood on the Power of Playback Theatre

18 May

MimiBom dia! My name is Mikhaella Norwood and I have just recently graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Spanish. I have had the honor of serving as a facilitator in the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) for the entirety of my senior year: my first semester I was part of PCAP’s first workshop at Catholic Social Services for the re-entry group, re-entry meaning people who were formerly incarcerated; second semester, I lead a workshop for participants at the Forensic Psychology Center, also a new workshop. When I heard about Brazil, I was mainly excited about studying abroad for the first time as the way to close my collegiate career. Now, I am realizing that I am here to gain much more.

For my first week here in Florianópolis, Brazil, I offer this haiku:

Your story is not

the only one that matters.

Here, we become small.

 

Today, there was a theatre festival held at the local university (UDESC) here in Florianópolis. During the last workshop that I was involved in, we learned about a particular kind of theatre called Playback Theatre. In Playback Theatre, the facilitator acts as an interviewer to someone from the audience who will tell a short personal story. When they finish, the actors then proceed with improvisational acting to recreate the personal story. In the end, it is important that the person who has given their personal story feels respected and appreciated for their transparency.

One of the Brazilians told a heart-wrenching story: he sadly experienced his brother being killed by a stray bullet. Although the actors were nervous to replay such a personal scene, it had to be done. In the first iteration of the scene, a translation mistake was made and the wrong brother was killed. This called for the facilitator and the storyteller to ask the actors to replay the scene involving the correct individuals. At this point few things could have been more uncomfortable in that moment, but in the end we all got through it, and it proved to be my biggest learning curve in the power of theatre and humility.

This is the power that theatre can have; we went back to a moment in this boy’s life where he was quite possibly at his weakest point, and through theatre, he was able to have power over which actor would play him, and have the actors replay the scene the correct way. This process was certainly uncomfortable for me, but in seeing how therapeutic the moment was for him, I learned a lesson in humility: my discomfort did not really matter. I was glad that the facilitator did not allow us to prematurely end the scene due to our discomfort and our mistakes. We all had to dwell in the discomfort; much in the same way that that precious boy has to forever dwell in the discomfort of losing his brother. By finishing it out the way that it was supposed to be, we were able to give honor to his story and ultimately the life and loss of his brother.

Before this gentle teen courageously shared his story, unbeknownst to even myself, my thoughts about whose voice/language is important, was somewhat unjust. Since I could not understand their language, I could not understand their stories, so somehow unconsciously, that translated into me believing that they maybe did not have a story to tell. Through the experience of that workshop, my eyes have been opened to the clear truth that we all have a story to tell, and whether that story be told in Portuguese, English, or otherwise, it still matters just as much. We are not as different as we think. As Americans, we are not as big and important as we think. The world is so much bigger than just my country and my state. My language is not the only one that is spoken and my voice is not the only one to carry an important message. My story is not the only one that matters. Here, in a country outside of my own, my world, and I along with it, have become small; and that is not so bad.

Guest blogger Ashna Khanna on the PCAP Brazil Exchange’s visit to Florianopolis

17 May

Ashna on beach.JPGHey y’all, my name is Ashna Khanna and I am delighted to write a blog post about my first trip to Brazil with the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP). I have volunteered with PCAP for two semesters now (my entire senior year). The first semester I facilitated a reentry workshop where we encountered individuals who just literally got out of prison or just recently had. The second semester I facilitated a workshop at the psychiatric facility where most patients are deemed mentally unable to continue trial or have charges pressed against them. PCAP has become not only a second home on campus but an inspiration that has helped me figure and build what I hope to do after graduation and in the future. I have been delighted enough to know all the people who I have gone on this trip with for at least a semester if not more.

I have been in Brazil for a couple of days now and something that I have realized that even though I love to travel, my appearance in another space or country is so insignificant and such a small event compared to the long history and millions of stories that have come before me and continue to grow after. There will be no way of knowing that Ashna has walked down this road many times to get the wonderful food that the country has to offer. Fortunately, on the day when we went to the most southern beach in Brazil, the entire class had the opportunity to have a lunch of an amazing restaurant and I was able to do something I have been wanting to do on this trip: leave a trail behind.

Today we went to the southern most beach in Brazil. Right on it we entered this huge seafood restaurant. The first thing I noticed was white, small notes written everywhere. Hanging off the ceilings, taped onto the walls, and literally anywhere that there was any space open. When I looked more closely I realized that these were all notes in different languages, shapes, and lengths. We then learnt that apparently in the 1970’s a lot of hippies did a lot of backpacking in this area and would stop at this same seafood restaurant right on the beach to eat. They would then leave notes taped onto the wall to leave a mark and so that future travelers would see, and it then became a tradition. The beauty of the restaurant mesmerized me. As I looked around I realized that there was so much history in this one restaurant and I was able to see it and experience parts of it through the notes. At the end of the meal we left a note as an entire class with all of our initials inside a big M. I also wrote a private note. Within it, I wrote a huge Greek symbol that means a lot to me that essentially states where there’s a will there’s a way. Then I filled each corner of the paper with something significant. In one corner I put the date, in another I put a Michigan M, in another I put family > everything, and in the other…Well lets just say it’s a secret that I hope leads me back to that very same restaurant to show a very special someone the note that I taped and left behind for no only others, but for myself to come back to.

Notes in restaurant.JPG

 

Also before this trip I had never really tried seafood other than fish and some shrimp; however, I literally ate all the seafood so well. As a class we got the seafood buffet that literally brought out just recently caught fish, crab, shrimp, and much more during a 2-hour lunch. It literally was the BEST seafood I have ever tasted and also the MOST fresh. I also brought a wonderful t-shirt from the place in order to remember these memories and come back soon.

Well that’s a wrap, and now you know the day of a life in Ashna’s shoes!

Ashna in restaurant.JPG

 

 

Guest blogger Meredith on performances from the Theatre of the Oppressed Conference

28 Aug

We arrived in the plaza early (on time) and devoured paper bags full of hot caramel corn doused in sweetened condensed milk from one of the many pipoca carts lining the edge of the city center. As we waited for our program to begin, I tried to take in the parts of the city I might normally overlook – an old woman on a park bench whispering secrets to pigeons, men delivering flowers on bicycles, angry monkeys yelling at one another up high in the trees, beautiful architecture I don’t have the art history knowledge to describe properly, children wearing sweaters despite it being 65 degrees outside (it is currently “winter” in Brazil).

Finally, a number of plastic chairs were set up in a circle and familiar faces from the Theatre of the Oppressed conference began to assemble. Over the next few hours, participants from the conference performed scenes they had workshopped throughout the week. Afterwards, our giant group played theatrical games in the middle of the plaza. As a college theatre student, this public display of artistic expression excited and fascinated me. In all of my experiences with theatre done in public spaces, a true audience is often limited and passerby are usually annoyed, slightly amused, or a vague mixture of the two. In Largo do Machado I stood rapt – half due to the incredible performances and games, and half as a result of the overwhelmingly positive response from onlookers. Old men, women with young children, teenagers, a middle-aged man who looked strangely like my fourth grade teacher – they all stood and watched, applauded with gusto, and even participated in the games. Never in my life have I seen this type of response to theatre. It is clear that in Brazil, art is not seen as something reserved for a certain type of person or group.

The first performance featured three children from the Maré favela. The age and talent of the sole girl in the group of performers caught my eye. She couldn’t have been more than thirteen, but she commanded the attention of the crowd with unabashed enthusiasm and confidence. It’s always refreshing, both as a performer and a human, to see someone exude so much joy while creating art. In a field where it is easy to get caught up and take myself too seriously, I crave these brief moments that remind me what theatre is capable of. It was a deep desire for more of these reminders that led me to PCAP in the first place.

I have always been passionate about theatre and social justice issues, but had difficulty finding mediums where I could merge the two. When I heard about Ashley’s Theatre and Incarceration course, I immediately signed up. I co-facilitated a theatre workshop in the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility with a group of lively, opinionated, hysterical women. The class helped me build a bridge between my two ostensibly separate passions, but it also served as a necessary, positive jolt in the way I look at myself and my art. I cannot rave enough about the theatre program at the University of Michigan and the remarkable training I have received, but after three years, I was feeling a little worn down. The competitive nature of the community, the focus on the individual, and the notion of being “good” weighed heavy on my mind, and I found it difficult to enjoy my work. I felt drowned in a world where theatre was regarded as “high art,” meant for a certain type of person, with a certain level of education, and a certain amount of money. Theatre was black and white. It wasn’t until I enrolled in Ashley’s class and began my prison workshop that I rediscovered how powerful art could be, how important it is for theatre to wade through the unexamined grey area. How, if used correctly, theatre has the capability to rearrange power. That, simply put, theatre is for everybody.

The day was filled with laughter, warmth, language barriers, and a true feeling of community. My favorite activity was facilitated by a theatre troupe from UCLA known as the Sex Squad. The squad uses theatre, music, and other types of art to promote sexual health education in high schools around Los Angeles. The participants in the plaza were split into five groups. Each group was assigned a substance that transmits HIV (I was semen) and was told to create a unique movement and way of singing their substance in Portuguese. We created a choir of sorts and soon I was standing in the middle of the city square, in the center of the crowd, conducting the chanting – “VAGINAL FLUID! BLOOD! BREAST MILK!” Arms flailed, people stared, and I went and ate more popcorn afterwards.

Alas, here we are now, at the airport in Rio, preparing to depart. I’ve eaten my weight in churros, red meat, fresh fruit, bacon popcorn, and my fellow peers are ready to roll me onto the plane. I loved spending time in this country where I grapple to understand and communicate and find the bathroom, a foreign land where I grew to love the warmth and the slow pace and the orchids in the trees, a trip I took with nearly perfect strangers who taught me so much. I am extremely grateful to Ashley Lucas, our fearless (and patient) leader, to Anna, our graduate school companion and translator, and to all those at UniRio who kissed us on both cheeks and let us be a part of their beautiful work. Obrigada & boa noite, Brasil!

Guest blogger Elena Khutoretsky on Teatro Renascer

26 Aug
Elena drinking cafezinho

Elena drinking cafezinho

My name is Elena and this trip will be my last experience as a student at the University of Michigan. Although I graduated this past May, I am thankful to still be able to participate in this program. I have facilitated workshops through PCAP with incarcerated men, women, and teenagers since September of last year. I chose to come to Brazil in order to continue this work while immersed in a completely different culture.

Prior to coming to Brazil, my experience was limited to prisons and youth facilities, where there were strict rules and restrictions on the content that we can work with in our workshops. Here in Rio de Janeiro, I have expanded my experience to include theater workshops in hospitals and favelas as well. One such experience was particularly memorable for me.

Michigan and UniRio students and faculty with the folks at Teatro Renascer

Michigan and UniRio students and faculty with the folks at Teatro Renascer

It happened earlier this week, when we paid a visit to Teatro Renascer, which is a group of elders at a nearby hospital who participate in an action-packed workshop every week, led by Carmela, a professor at UniRio. The participants were lively and very welcoming, and I hardly even noticed the language barrier amidst all the hugs and smiles. The workshop started with a Portuguese song and dance, followed by a name game which involved participants inventing creative ways to say their names and teaching it to others. The highlight of my day was when, in the middle of my presentation of my name, everyone in the group started chanting it with me and dancing in a circle, concluding the activity. Most of the activities were very physical in nature, often involving collaboration among small groups of participants. We created depictions of bicycles, peeing dogs, various modes of transportation, many different kinds of animals, and one battleship that required everyone’s participation. I quickly found myself literally bouncing up and down with a level of energy I hadn’t felt in a very long time. The final activity was a very intense rendition of a song about the four elements of earth, water, air, and fire, in relation to our bodies. We stood in a circle, singing fiercely with furled eyebrows and stomping feet, while each one of us took turns performing a dance in the middle of the circle. You haven’t seen an elderly lady bust a move like I have.

Elena is a big fan of the monkeys we've encountered in Rio.

Elena is a big fan of the monkeys we’ve encountered in Rio.

I left the place with delicious snacks in my belly, a broad grin on my face, and a surplus of euphoric invigoration that lasted all day long. It was to this date the most uplifting and energizing workshop I have ever had the pleasure of participating in.

More monkeys!

More monkeys!

When I later reflected on the experience, I came to the realization that we could have done many of these activities in a Brazilian prison (which are relatively lenient when it comes to content), and some even in a US prison, especially if we modified them to avoid touching one another. And yet, I couldn’t imagine having this level of fun if I did the same workshop in a prison. Why? Because the unfortunate reality is that there is no amount of energy or vigor that could ever make me forget the fact that we are always being watched, that some people don’t want me there, or that some people don’t believe that prisoners even deserve to have fun in the first place. I’ve had workshops in prisons where we laughed a lot and had a fantastic time, but that has always been in spite of, not instead of, the constant awareness of the rules we have to follow, and the knowledge that the people I am working with are not given the same respect and autonomy that I enjoy. It wasn’t until my experience with Teatro Renascer that I truly understood how much of a difference it makes just knowing in the back of my mind that the participants and I are treated with the same level of respect by society and that no one in the facility looks down on what we do. It made me reflect on how much extra work it takes in prison to achieve just a fraction of the result I would achieve elsewhere. For this reason, this experience highlighted for me the importance of doing theater in prisons. Because there’s not enough of it, because it takes a lot of work, and because everyone deserves it equally.

Thanks for reading,

Elena

Guest blogger Laurel Cerier on doing a workshop at a Brazilian hospital

25 Aug
Laurel on Corvocado Mountain

Laurel at the Botanical Garden

Hello readers! I´m Laurel, a rising senior at the University of Michigan dual majoring in International Studies and Psychology with a minor in Community Action and Social Justice. I joined UM´s Prison Creative Arts Program (PCAP) through Ashley´s first Theatre and Incarceration class two years ago and have since facilitated (with a partner) a theatre workshop at Women´s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, Michigan´s sole women´s prison, as well as a visual arts workshop at G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility. In addition, I worked on the Prison Art Show Committee for the 19th annual show exhibiting donated art and items for sale by prisoners from the majority of Michigan´s prisons. This fall, I plan to join PCAP´s Literary Review Committee, which compiles selected writing pieces from Michigan prisoners each year into its Michigan Review of Prisoner Creative Writing.

When people asked me why I had decided to go to Brazil to work in prisons, as if this was some insane longing for extra thrill in my life, I always had a hard time answering. It is difficult to articulate my understanding that coming here would undoubtedly teach me more about what it means to be human. After my previous experiences working in Michigan prisons (another “crazy” notion) brought me more in touch with the relationship between policy and people, it is clear to me that a person can read and learn all they want to in a classroom, but until something is before them, being understood in some physical capacity, it remains in the imagination ready for the mind´s interference. As a result, when friends returned from the trip last year with newfound enlightenment and even more questions about how the world works, I could not say no to Ashley´s invitation.

Although I came to Rio most interested in attending the theatre workshops run by UniRio students in local Brazilian prisons, the program led by Miguel, a retiring UniRio professor, at a local hospital ultimately became my favorite. It is not a workshop, per se, as the students did not interact regularly with the same group of people throughout their hours at the hospital on any given day, but this in no way diminishes the work they do there. When I arrived at the facilitators´ office with a few of my UM companions, we were each handed a brightly colored apron and given a brief explanation of what we were about to partake in: fun! Moments later, we lined up behind the bubbly facilitators and were off!

Laurel & Joe feijoada

Joe & Laurel get ready to eat their first feijoada–the Brazilian national dish

The group sang a samba song while playing guitars and a tambourine as we all danced our way through the gray halls of the hospital up to a sunlit lobby, out to the front of the building, and right up to a woman leaving the hospital. The singing continued until one of the UniRio students asked her if she would like a happiness checkup, to which she agreed with a mile-long smile across her face. He put his ear near her chest, listening to her “samba heartbeat,” created by the deep ka-thunk of the his classmate´s tambourine. It seems that her happiness was in full health! He then opened up an emergency aid kit box filled with small slips of paper, pulled one out, and read to her what I believe was some sort of sweet proverb about love and happiness. The woman was absolutely delighted, leaving in joyful laughter.

We continued these checkups periodically with patients, family members, and various hospital staff members alike as we rhythmically wandered our way through the hospital until we reached a pediatric waiting room. After asking a few small children their names, each troubadour pulled simple props our of their apron pockets and commenced their silly skit about a frog, played by the sole male member of the group, who must overcome his fear of jumping high into the sky in order to go to a party he so longingly wants to attend. Although I couldn´t understand a word of the Portuguese, the students moved so fluidly, making such dramatic expressions and absurd sounds, that no one could miss the amazingly executed humor.

Laurel Jardim Botanico

Next, we worked our way to the chemotherapy ward, turning a room that previously had a dull and sterile atmosphere into a small, soft parade! While these adult patients were visibly exhausted and uncomfortable, many lit up at our entrance, and it was here that us foreigners were finally able to articulately join in on the singing with “Stand by Me.” While we sang, one woman´s grown daughter snuck into the room to video our short performance and her mother´s response of pure gratitude and delight. Although this particular patient expressed more enthusiasm than the others, her reaction will forever change the meaning of this song in my life. After that, each patient in that room and the next was offered a happiness checkup and a slip of paper, and then we continued on once more.

All throughout our trips in the hallways, I was overwhelmed by the bodies we had to work through as waiting patients and their family members continued to accumulate in surprising numbers. Ashley explained to me that because Brazil has a socialized healthcare system, with very few privatized facilities, the hospitals are constantly overwhelmed, and patients often suffer for months or years before receiving non-priority treatments, such as elective surgeries like knee-replacements. As I gazed at the mild chaos around me, I couldn`t help notice that in many ways, these jammed narrow spaces resemble a packed United States emergency room, making me wonder how much worse the crowds must be in Brazilian hospitals. Even so, the UniRio students continued their singing and games, forcing out grins and giggles from the people around them. We continued dancing and singing from ward to ward, and by the end of the workshop, I found myself ready to collapse into bed. Amazingly enough, the UniRio students didn´t seem at all exhausted, and when we finally made our way back to their office, they seemed reluctant to lock everything up in the cabinet. It is rare to find so much energy, compassion, and humor in five different people all at once, and in a place so filled with sadness and pain, I felt truly privileged to see and partake in even the momentary goofiness and delight that they brought so many individuals.

Guest blogger on visiting a Brazilian prison

24 Aug

This student guest blogger wishes to remain anonymous.

The first thing I notice about Gabriel is his sharp hair cut, brilliant smile and the soccer ball in his hands, shuffling from one to the other. He’s full of charm and he knows it. Roughly a dozen men, all of them of various ages wear a white T-shirt, blue pants and white Havainas, and they move about on the stage inside this hollowed out church talking with the workshop facilitators. On the wall behind them is a large mural of a bible verse from Psalms. Gabriel asks me where I’m from and I spend 10 minutes trying to explain Detroit through the default references of “Ford,” “Motown,” and “Eminem.” Everyone knows Eminem. After a while he has an idea of where I’m talking about and asks if it’s near Chicago. I tell him it is and he asks, “You know Chicago Bulls?”

“Yeah,” I respond. “Derek Rose.”

“Michael Jordan,” he says now using the ball to mime Michael’s iconic pose.

I keep trying to tell him about Detroit, even though I’m from Pontiac. Gabriel is the first Brazilian I’ve met who knows anything at all about American sports. He’s a fan of Lebron James and knows how the game of football works, which is a big surprise. I tell my team is the Detroit Lions, and we make loud growling sounds. When I ask him where he is from, he drops the soccer ball, points to the ground beneath his feet and says, “I’m from Rio de Janeiro.”

Street scene in Rio

Street scene in Rio

I’ve just recently graduated from the University of Michigan, and for the past two years I’ve been involved with the Prison Creative Arts Project, an organization founded on the basis of building a better community by creating art and theater with incarcerated adults and juveniles. I first found out about this program when I enrolled in Professor Ashley Lucas’ Theatre and Incarceration class the start of my Junior Year, and after my first workshop, a theatre production with Incarcerated young men at Maurice Spear Campus in Adrian, Michigan, I wanted to do more. I took another class in PCAP with Professor Lucas and Shaka Senghor called the Atonement Project, and from that class I learned about the exchange with the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro when professors Marina, Viviane, and Natália came to visit Michigan and see the work we do in the winter of 2014.

This is my second trip to Brazil. Last year’s encounter with this work at the University and with the Center for the Theater of the Oppressed as well as the community work in Maré inspired my return. Since I’ve been in Brazil, the only landmark I have visited more than once is Pedro do Sal, the Birthplace of Samba. In the early 1900’s many gatherings of minority communities were repressed and criminalized in Brazil. People would gather in residential places to express their religion, their dance, their history and culture. Pedro do Sal is one of these places, and I like to think that our work within prisons and marginalized communities is like a revival of this tradition of building community by creating art.

Outside, in the churchyard, Professor Natália explains to us that the prison isn’t segregated by crime but by faction. So every man within the walls of the prison is part of the same gang. It helps us understand the need to control violence and also the ease at which the men in the workshop work together, not to mention the prohibition on wearing colors affiliated with gangs. I don’t want the guards to think I’m affiliated with their gang, and I most certainly don’t want the men in prison to think I’m affiliated with their rivals.

As the men in the workshop perform their production on stage, I think about Gabriel and the American influences that he’s encountered. I think about the hip-hop and rap music they must have been exposed to (One of the sketches in their play is a rap), and I wonder if they know about the Bloods and Crips tennis shoes sponsored by Kendrick Lamar to promote unity, to promote community.  Off the top of my head I can’t remember what Michael Jordan’s shoes promoted. With my time in Rio coming to an end, I still ponder the meaning of liberty, freedom, and history in connection to art and theater. On the bus ride home one of the facilitators still sings one of the songs from the performance and asks me how to say these words in English.  My Portuguese not being very good I tell her, roughly, that “Art is my reason” is all I can come up with.

Guest blogger Joe Ambrose on theatre with incarcerated mothers and babies in Rio

21 Aug
Joe at the Top of the Cristo

Joe at the Top of the Cristo

Ola! I’m Joe, and I am a junior at the University of Michigan majoring in Public Policy with a minor in Intergroup Relations. I have been involved with PCAP since enrolling in Dr. Lucas’s Theatre and Incarceration course last January. Through this course, I co-facilitated a theatre and improv workshop at Cooper Street Correctional Facility in Jackson, MI. I will also have the privilege of taking Dr. Lucas and Shaka Senghor´s course, The Atonement Project, this fall, which will allow me to facilitate another wonderful workshop!

While I have traveled outside of the United States before, this abroad trip to Rio de Janeiro is my first immersive experience in another country. I started the application just hours after a friend told me about her experiences with PCAP and said she would be going to Brazil to do theatre for social change in collaboration with other university students. Surprisingly, my friends and family did not share the same excitement when I told them that I would be participating in creative arts workshops in Brazilian prisons, as well as hospitals and favelas. I have learned a lot about the stigmas and stereotypes placed on prisons and the people in which they attempt to hide from the rest of society, but I had never considered that these stereotypes are amplified when referring to foreign prisons in particular. I don’t know if this is a result of the media, or T.V. shows like “Locked Up Abroad,” but what I do know is that I have never felt more free and able to openly engage in theatre than when in these Brazilian facilities. My experiences inside of U.S. correctional facilities have involved strict policies and guards that will go to extreme lengths to make sure that the guys in my workshop aren’t “having too much fun.” Although I recognize that there is not a single prison in the world that is perfect, I have had the great honor in participating in some great programs here in Rio.

Last Tuesday, I was able to visit a facility called Materno Infantil. Materno Infantil serves as a temporary place for incarcerated mothers to continue their sentences alongside their newborns until their babies are six months at most. Having heard about past students’ experiences visiting this facility and the abundance of baby holding, I was overly excited to visit these heart-warming people. While Materno Infantil still felt like a prison (barbed wire, locked gates, armed guards, etc.), I have never seen a brighter and more beautiful landscape within the walls of a correctional facility. The staff, which was composed of almost all women, was dressed casually; there were colorful gardens, not to mention the dozens of strollers with the cutest babies scattered all over. It wasn’t more than five minutes after we entered, before I had a one-month old named Jennifer, fast asleep in my arms. As an uncle myself, it’s needless to say that I was in my happy place. Despite the language barrier, I could sense the immense amount of joy in this workshop through the wide smiles and rich laughter of the women. After singing and dancing around a circle of seven strollers, a few of my classmates, and I participated in some familiar improv games with the mothers. I had the chance to lead one call-and-response dance activity that I have previously done in other workshops. Although the women had a hard time learning the English version (as I do with games in Portuguese), we still had a ton of fun, and the women busted out some great moves nonetheless. I’ve come to learn how important theatre is because it serves as a single language and allows people to understand and relate to each other on a common ground.

The Man Himself

The Man Himself

After two hours of games and our stomachs hurt from laughing, the workshop started to come to a close. I was able to have a verbal conversation with three of the women, thanks to our translator and friend João, who is a student at UniRio and co-facilitates this workshop. The women asked us some questions about the U.S. correctional system, including curiosity about capital punishment. But then one of the women asked us a question that I will never forget. “They want to know if you are scared of them because they are in jail,”João translated to us. I had completely forgotten that we were interacting with women who would soon most likely be separated from their children and who transferred back to another prison. Our workshop was filled with so much laughter and joy that, for a brief period of time, I had forgotten that we were in prison. I can only hope that these women felt the same way. This woman’s question proves that too many people are socialized to be afraid of people inside of prisons and that we isolate them from the rest of society rather than addressing the larger problem at hand. I will be forever grateful for the experiences I’ve had in Rio, and I look forward to continuing this not only important but necessary work in the United States.

Tchau for now,

Joe Ambrose

Joe's beach acrobatics

Joe’s beach acrobatics

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