Reflections on a panel at the UDESC Prison Arts and Education Conference: A post by an anonymous student guest blogger

7 Jun
Group at Lagoa
In an institution where every aspect of humanity, identity, and individuality is stripped from you as a prisoner, those aspects become harder to maintain. Prisoners both in Brazil and the United States can use their imagination to create visual arts, music, theater and more to oppose such a system. While we were in a conference lecture in Florianópolis, Professor Natália Fiche talked about the importance of theater and acting within the prison. She and many others discussed how this ability to express oneself and one’s imagination is liberating in a place where you have no liberation. There are similarities but also stark differences between Brazilian prisons and U.S. prisons. In Brazil, prisoners are allowed to critique the system. They can speak or create art about their oppression, the corruption of the government, or even a revolution. However, once they critique a specific guard or figure of authority to their face, that is when their lives become threatened. Guards will not put up with disrespect to their name, but they’ll allow it when it addresses someone else. But this “freedom of speech” within Brazilian prisons comes with a cost. The lives and bodies of Brazilian prisoners are disposable in the eyes of the authority. Guards in Brazil are armed to the teeth and will not hesitate to use it. U.S. prisons are the opposite. In most prisons guards are not as heavily armed, and prisoners cannot criticize anything systemic without being punished for it. It’s interesting because as similar as prisons can be or seem, the differences are deeper than we see from outside their walls.
Houses on edge of water
Additionally, Natália said something that caught my attention. She was talking about her students who went into the program and did workshops in prisons. She said something along the lines of “My students go into these prisons as boys and girls but come out as men and women.” I found this line in particular to be quite profound and relevant to all prison related work in general. There is a process of maturation that occurs when one enters these prisons. You see things that you didn’t believe existed behind prison walls. You learn that society is lied to about human rights protections for such populations. And I feel like what Natalia said was a perfect way to summarize this.
Dock
Florianópolis was amazing. The people welcomed us with open arms and smiles on their faces. The theatre students and lectures kept the audience entertained but never lost track of the purpose of this whole conference. I’m extremely humbled to have met some of the people I did on Florianópolis. I look forward to more experiences like this in Rio.
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