Prison Arts and Education Conference at UDESC: A post from Julia Timko

12 Jun

Hello folks! My name is Julia Timko, I have been a student of Ashley’s and a PCAPer for the past three years. When I transferred to the University of Michigan in 2014 and enrolled in Theatre and Incarceration it somehow slipped my mind that we would actually be going into the prison, but after my first week at Women’s Huron Valley, I was in love with everyone in my workshop. Working with PCAP has changed my life in so many ways and I am so grateful to have had the experience. I recently graduated with a degree in theatre, and although I will no longer be at U of M, I hope to continue the work wherever I end up. This starts with Brazil.

While in Florianópolis, our group attended the first “Seminario International de Arte e Educação Prisional” at the Universidade do Estado de Santa Catarina. We, the Americans, were the international element. Everything was conducted in Portuguese, with our fearless leaders Ashley and Silvina (and some lovely English-speaking UDESC students) translating as best they could along the way. As a person who is often overwhelmed by the sheer volume of social injustice in the world, it was so moving and inspiring to be in a room full of people who cared deeply about folks who are incarcerated and have identified that the arts are a way to help them. It reminded me that even though these problems are numerous, there are also so many people in this world working towards justice.

On the first day of the conference, (after singing both the Brazilian national anthem and the anthem for the state of Santa Catarina) we listened to different presentations about prisons in Brazil and the kinds of work being done in them. The conference provided handy little pads to keep notes, and I used mine to get down some of the quotes/ideas that really stuck with me. The first of these is the idea the prison is the last frontier of education. As the daughter of an educator, education is something that’s on my mind a lot – what the purpose of education is and how we make the system better for those who come from marginalized backgrounds. People in prison generally tend to be forgotten in the overall discussion about education in the USA, and I feel that it’s important that they be factored in.

Later on in the day, one of the speakers discussed the fact that prisoners in Brazil have been conscripted to work on restoration projects such as fixing up old buildings. The people who are made to do this work develop skills that they could easily take with them once they are released, but even when they do have skills it’s difficult for them to get hired. Similarly, some incarcerated folks are taught to bind and repair books but are not taught to read them. These issues that were brought up, with specific reference to people incarcerated in Brazil, are also issues that are faced by people who exit prison in the US.

Another similarity worth mentioning (but briefly, as I wasn’t able to get the full translation) was the fact that false research about who is more pre-disposed to go to prison continues to affect darker skinned Brazilians. This is something that we have been talking about with our UniRio friends as well.

While it was challenging to listen to an academic conference in Portuguese, overall I was very grateful to have been included in the conversation and to have learned more about Brazil and the way that the system functions. If anything it has made me more determined to continue the work.


Apropos of nothing written in this blog post, I’d like to share this picture of a monkey that was spotted on an adventure to the Botanical Gardens in Rio. Just after this picture was taken, we watched him eat a banana out of a toddler’s hand.


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