The City Behind Bars: A post by Renisha Bishop

16 Jun

Why are the darker skinned people and indigenous people treated the worst in every country? Why are the rumors, stereotypes, misconceptions so standard across the board for these people? They are poor. They are dangerous. They are uneducated. They are criminals. WHY? Is it that the people in control are afraid of their potential? Their strength? Afraid that they would actually be smarter, more creative, intuitive, in fact more powerful? So powerful that they would actually be on the top and not the bottom.

It really saddens me to think about the mistreatment, discrimination, abuse that people face globally. For some reason, I only believed that racism existed in the United States but I was so wrong. My friends here in Brazil quickly dispelled this myth for me. I thought I wouldn’t have much in common with them, but we share much more in common than I ever imagined.

Renisha mural

Prior to coming to Rio de Janeiro, I was told that it was very dangerous, that I shouldn’t walk around by myself. I really feared for my life. I was paranoid for the first couple of days. I thought there would be people just waiting to rob me for the little I had. Once I got adjusted and saw more of the city, it seemed just like any other major city in the US. Rio really reminds me of Los Angeles for some reason.

I’ve been to two different prisons here in Rio; both are facilities for women, but one had a wing for women with infants. During our workshop with the mothers, I was able to hold a two-month-old for almost the entire workshop. It was a different experience, being inside of a jail with babies. Babies are a source of innocence and pure joy, but the reality of their futures is dark and unfathomable. The women are able to keep their babies for up to two years legally, but since the facility is over-crowded, they are only able to keep them until they turn six months. Then the babies go with their mother’s family or are given to foster homes. Most of the women don’t have any family to raise their children until they’re out of prison, so the babies are given to the foster homes. It’s a hard process for women to give their babies away. I felt the pain of uncertainty while being inside of the prison with them. It was such a stark contrast. The happiness and innocence of the babies but the heaviness of the women. I was glad that we were there to take their minds off of their realities for a brief moment with theater games. But it’s always sad leaving workshops knowing that once we leave it’s back to reality for them.

The other women’s prison I went to was very different than the first. As soon as we got there, it was a small room near the gate with a small opening where the sun could barely peak through. These two women came to the small hole to speak to us. I was very disturbed that two women were in that small room, and we were told to not speak to them. Once we got into the prison, the other incarcerated women warmly welcomed us affectionately with hugs and kisses. We all sat through my professor’s performance about families who had loved ones incarcerated. We were all deeply moved by the various monologues in Spanish, English, and Portuguese. I left the prisons and returned to a chic neighborhood that had bars around the houses and apartments. It’s a crazy dichotomy. Everyone is behind bars for various reasons. Who are the real criminals here?

Renisha Bishop is a recent graduate of The University of Michigan. 

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