Hi all! My name is Ariel Rogan and I have been involved in the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) since January of 2015. PCAP’s mission is to collaborate with incarcerated adults, incarcerated youth, urban youth, and the formerly incarcerated to strengthen our community through creative expression. Since the time I joined until April 2015, I participated in a theatre workshop at Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti, MI. I co-facilitated with two other students, Jessica and Laura, and we worked each week towards a final performance. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with those amazing women. I am beyond thrilled that I was given the opportunity to extend my prison theatre work here in Brazil! When I heard about this trip, there was no contemplating whether I wanted to attend or not, and I applied right away! I could not pass down the chance to not only continue this awesome work, but to travel to Brazil as well.
This past Tuesday, we went into the prisons. I was grouped with Anna, our wonderful translator, Hannah, Caitlyn, and the workshop leader, Sergio. We went into the women’s prison, and as of now, I have only worked with women. We waited outside of the prison for at least twenty minutes before being let in. I was starting to get nervous that they would not let us in. When we finally did get in, I immediately noticed several differences between this prison and Women’s Huron Valley. The “bubble” process was not long at all here in Rio. The “bubble” is where the security guards check to make sure that you don’t have any contraband before entering the prison. In Rio, all we had to do was sign our names and walk through a medal detector, whereas in Michigan, we had to walk through a medal detector, take off our shoes and socks, show them the bottom of our feet, manifest ANYTHING we brought in (i.e. lip balm), and the guards had to pat us down. I was pretty shocked that the process was way less severe, especially considering the fact that we are foreigners. Another thing I noticed upon walking in was that the bubble was practically outside, so when we entered the prison we were still technically outdoors. Not to my surprise, the structures of the buildings were not built as well as the buildings of the prisons in Michigan. Many of the buildings were only partially indoors, if that makes sense, and I’m assuming they had no central air.
Despite the buildings’ poor structures, I noticed that it did not seem to affect the women’s attitudes. They all said, “Hi!”–“Oi!”–and smiled. There was an overall sense of kindness and what seemed to be happiness around the prison. In Michigan, while most of the women in my workshop grew to really like us, the women we passed while going to and from our workshop building did not seem happy (I could definitely see why) or like they did not want to be bothered when we would say hi to them. The women in the prison in Rio also had a much more fashionable uniform than the women in Michigan. They wore jean shorts, which were cute by the way, and comfortable t-shirts, whereas in Ypsilanti, they wore dark blue unflattering jumpsuits.
We began the workshop by introducing ourselves. When we got to my name they were all stunned and confused. They had absolutely no idea how to pronounce my name because it has a “r” right in the middle of it, and they pronounce that letter like an “h” sound in Portuguese. We all had a good laugh over that. We then played a name game to try and remember everyone’s name. In this game we stood in a circle, and one person would say another person’s name in the circle. The person who said the name would go to take the spot of the person whose name they said in the circle, but before they get to the person’s spot the person whose name was said has to say another name and start moving (I hope that makes sense). Anyhow, the game is super fun and can get silly really quickly. In addition to this game being loads of fun, it really does help to remember names. We played a few more games that stirred up lots of laughs and some that made us think. I think these games are great especially when there are new people to a workshop (us foreigners) because it definitely breaks the ice. More importantly for the women incarcerated, it gives them a chance to have a great time and to be in a space where they don’t have to follow rules and they are given a sense of autonomy.
Theatre work is so important outside of traditional theatre spaces. Before taking the Theatre and Incarceration class with Ashley winter semester, I was so interested in how this worked. I wondered how theatre and incarceration came together, and now that I have had first hand experience, I see how useful and important it is. I did not realize how complex the prison system was and all of its flaws. I used to think, well, if a person did a certain thing wrong, they should be punished and put in jail. Now that I have learned so much, my views have changed dramatically on this topic. I know that everything is not black and white and that often times things are socially constructed and not in the favor of people who are marginalized. This work allows these wonderful people to actually be treated like people, and it also gives them a sense of power. It gives them the power to create something special, to contribute to ideas, to work as a team, and to be proud of themselves. I truly think this work is essential for the sanity of some of these people. It also gives them the chance to show their creativity. I was blown away by the creativity of the women in my workshop in Michigan, and they were happy that they were given credit for their creativity. All in all, I am extremely grateful that I get to be a part of this work that changes lives!