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Sharing Our Truths, Love, and Laughter in Brazil, a post by Uche Nna

11 Jun

Hi, my name is Uche Nna, and I am an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan. I anticipate graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry and a minor in Gender and Health in December. I thought about joining PCAP after a few friends gave me brief summaries about the work PCAP is involved in and how it has impacted them. I made my true strides to join PCAP after learning about the study abroad program in Brazil. I feel very fortunate to be writing a blog on the final days of our trip. I hope to share with you the moments that impacted me the most. We started this journey on May 20th in Florianópolis, Brazil, and it will come to an official close on June 11th in Rio de Janeiro. In our time here, we have shared our truths, love and laughter within prisons, communities, classrooms, Brazilian homes, and the each other as classmates.

Our time in Rio has been very interesting. We became as mixed up and thrown off by a gas strike as the locals. As the gas strike continued, we watched businesses become empty, signs about being “closed until further notice” went up, the university was closed as students were unable to ride the buses to get to class. As the gas strike moved into its 7th day the roads were barren, we panicked about being able to get to the airport and flying to Rio. We tried to remain cognizant about what our friends in Brazil struggle with when there is conflict, and protest that addresses government policy.

My favorite day in Rio was one of the most exhausting days I had in a while. This day started with my roommate’s alarm at 5:15 am followed by my alarm at 5:30 am. After making our way out of the hostel towards the university, the sun began to rise. We were on our way to prison to do a workshop. When I arrived outside the prison doors of the men’s facility, we joined an assembly of visitors who were shuffled in 4 at a time. By the time we arrived, they were taking in 16-20. I am unsure how long they have been there that day or how early a visitor would have to show up to get a good number. Over the course of 45 minutes, the guards looked out of the 2.5” x 6” rectangular peephole a few times, took our passports, asked us why we had come today and finally let us inside.

Walking through the hallways of the prison, I was really thrown off by how happy some of the staff were to see us. They seemed elated, almost too elated. I was facilitating with about 9 other students (3 from UniRio and 6 from University of Michigan) as we entered the space of our workshop, we began playing catch with each other. One by one men began to pop through the door and joined in with us. There were about 20 men who were in the circle playing this hacky-sack catch game about 10 minutes after the first one came in. We had a fabulous workshop and played about 7 games. Having the space to be playful with the incarcerated men has been amazing over the past few months with PCAP. It always amazes me how quickly they can let their guards down and be fully engaged, excited, and energized through playing games. Theatre in prison enables incarcerated people the opportunity to feel unapologetic joy. Being overzealous and playful in many prison spaces can be dangerous as this is how many people become targets for manipulation and abuse. Theatre gives incarcerated people a break from this and tells them that it is ok to try something new, laugh at oneself, or tell a silly joke. When we were ending the workshop, the men were very excited to tell their future goals. After this, one of the men, who I perceived as a staff member earlier in the day, presented a pile of artwork to us. This is when I realized that some of the staff members were also incarcerated, and I understood why they were so happy to see us.

Later in the day we attended Professor Marina’s graduate class. In this class her graduate student Julia shared some of the work and research she has been doing in women’s prison. She shared information about the disproportionate number of marginalized women, and she read a very impactful letter by one of the women. In this letter the woman says that she wishes she could have been a better mother and daughter. Having wishes like this from the inside can be incredibly painful. Many of us can try to repair and rebuild relationships. The extreme limitations that come with being incarcerated seem to make repairing and rebuilding relationships incredibly difficult. Being able to look back and forward in life and think about the changes we want to make to feel that we have lived a fulfilling life is an extreme privilege. I hope you all reading can act on your wishes and guide the wishes of others when you have the chance. After this long night in Marina’s graduate class we returned to the hostel around 10 pm. The next day was my 22nd birthday, and the fabulous friends at Teatro Renascer sang happy birthday to me and put on an amazing show.


Michigan and UniRio students and faculty with the members of the Teatro Renascer workshop.

Because I am a science student, many people have wondered why I am doing theatre and if it has been uncomfortable or difficult for me. One day I hope to go on to medical school. This work is important to me because I understand that I will not be able to change everyone’s situation, but I hope that I can always pass on joy into the world and provide spaces for people to discover themselves and feel at ease. PCAP continuously rehumanizes me by allowing me to work with the population of incarcerated people, and I am lucky that I am beginning to understand how important it is and how grounding it is to feel human. PCAP helps to humanize the people on the inside, and I am very happy to know this.

Theatre in a Prison with Mothers and Babies: A post by Alex Bayer

17 Jun

My name is Alex Bayer, and I am entering my senior year at the University of Michigan. I am a psychology major and ultimately hope to be a therapist who works with youth. I’ve always had passion for the arts—I was a dancer for 15 years, participated in theatre throughout middle school and high school, and discovered how much I love creative writing during college. I heard about the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) during my freshman year of college and was instantly intrigued by the idea of bringing different art forms (creative writing, theatre, and fine arts) into a prison, where people are constantly denied of their humanity and self expression. Although I was intrigued, I was also slightly hesitant. I was well aware of the stigma attached to incarcerated people and didn’t know enough about the prison system to justify why I wanted to involve myself in this type of work. After taking a study abroad course in Copenhagen, Denmark, called the Psychology of Criminal Behavior and visiting various rehabilitation programs, my frustration with the prison system in the U.S. escalated. By my junior year at the university, I made the incredible decision to join PCAP.


Alex on the dock behind a restaurant where we ate in Florianópolis.

It’s safe to say that PCAP has changed my life. Compared to all other classes I have taken at U of M, I have never been surrounded by a group of such intelligent, open-minded yet skeptical, and passionate individuals. I facilitated a workshop at a youth facility in Detroit with Adelia and Kaitlin, who are now two of my closest friends. We went to Lincoln every Sunday at 5 PM and led a group of 10 boys in various theatre games. It didn’t take long for us to fall in love with these boys, and going into that facility soon became the highlight of my week. We continued our workshop into the summer, and only stopped because we were all going to Brazil, where we would have the opportunity to visit prisons and hospitals and exchange our knowledge and excitement for the work we do with Brazilian students who engage in similar work.

We are now in our third and final week of our experience in Brazil. Today I went into a prison with two students from UniRio (a university in Rio) and four students from the PCAP program. We went into a facility with mothers and babies, made for incarcerated women who are pregnant during their sentencing and can keep their babies for the first six months of their lives. After six months, these women are forced to find someone else to take care of their baby or hand that baby over to the government.

view from the mountain

Before arriving to Rio, I had never visited a women’s prison, only the juvenile facility I worked in during the winter. Going into the women’s facility was much different than what I had experienced in the past. I never went inside this facility; we played theatre games with the women right outside of their rooms on a deck. As we walked up to this deck, we passed a church built for the women in the prison. We then approached a group of women on the deck, and they were all holding their babies or gently rocking them in their strollers. At first, I was so distracted by the cuteness of the babies. The women welcomed us and seemed happy for us to play with their kids; many of them even handed us their babies to hold for a little bit. We began the workshop with a name game, but at this point, a lot of women left. Many of them were preoccupied with other tasks, such as breastfeeding or changing diapers. After the name game, we played a couple of games that involved dancing/singing/hugging, and we got much more comfortable with one another. During these games, we had a rotating group of about 3-4 women, depending on who could participate in each moment.

Following the games, one of the women suggested having a group discussion instead of playing more games—a suggestion I would have never heard when I worked in a facility with teenage boys. The woman began by asking Asma, one of our group members, about the hijab she was wearing. The woman was curious as to why Asma wanted to cover up her hair, and explained that Brazilian women are often very comfortable with displaying their bodies in more revealing clothing. Although Asma was put on the spot a little bit, she handled the pressure really well, and the woman was thankful for her willingness to answer the questions. The woman admitted that she has never really talked to anyone from the United States and does not see many people wearing a hijab, so she wanted to educate herself. These questions sparked openness among the whole group, and a lot more women came to the deck to join the discussion and ask more questions to all of us.

In class in Floripa

Our PCAP group in class with Prof. Vicente Concilio’s theatre students in Florianópolis.

The discussion was just like it would be with any group of women I met in Brazil—our group shared experiences with these women, and they did the same in return. It felt natural, and I quickly forgot I was in a prison. At the end of the discussion, we hugged and kissed the women goodbye. It wasn’t until exiting the prison that I was reminded of where I was. Right in front of the prison, a police car was parked with a giant rifle sticking out of the window. My heart immediately sank. I knew that it was used for intimidation and that I wasn’t in any personal danger, but it reminded me of the intimidation tactics that are constantly used against the women I just talked to for the past two hours. I was reminded of the fact that these women aren’t free; the fact that these women will have to say goodbye to their babies soon; the fact that one mistake a person makes could lead to being incarcerated and put in inhumane conditions.

Thinking about these facts cause a lot of frustration, but I then remind myself of the people I am surrounded by and become hopeful again. Such strong, resilient people who also recognize the problems with the prison system surround me. Of all aspects of this trip, the people are why I am most grateful—not just the PCAP group, but everyone I have met on this journey. I am beyond grateful for the various professors and students from Brazil who not only include us in their work but also welcome us with wide arms and make us feel at home. The Brazilian students who speak English continuously translate for us during conferences and classes. All of the students we met have taken a huge interest in us, asking us questions about our lives, showing us around, and teaching us about their culture. Although I knew I would have an amazing experience with the entire PCAP group and our fearless, nurturing leader Ashley, I had no idea how much I would connect with the Brazilian students here. I am looking forward to the rest of my week in Brazil and will always carry the love I have received from all of the people here.

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. 

Racial oppression in Brazil: A post by Ashley Hails

15 Jun

Hi my name is Ashley. I am a rising senior at the University of Michigan, studying International Studies and Sociology. I wanted to go on the GCC Brazil study abroad experience with Ashley Lucas for three reasons. First, I have always wanted to go abroad. I think it is important for me to get out of my comfort zone and to learn first-hand about another country’s culture. Secondly, this study abroad trip aligned with both of my majors. As an International Studies major, it gave me an opportunity to learn about a country within my region of focus, Latin America. As a Sociology major, this trip helped me learn about the power that art mediums, such as theatre, can have on creating social change in prisons universally. Lastly, I was very interested in the concept of this class. Prior to taking Ashley Lucas’ class during the winter semester, I only knew about the prison system based on its portrayal through the media. After our weekly readings, discussions, and having the ability to co-facilitate weekly theatre workshops in a prison, my views on prisoners and the prison system completely changed. This abroad experience gives me an opportunity to continue to learn about the relationship between theatre and prison systems in other countries. Now that I know about the impact of theatre in the United States, I wanted to continue to learn about it in Brazil.

We have done a lot during this trip ranging from theatre classes with students from the University of Rio to facilitating theatre workshops in a Brazilian prison. However, on June 9, we were able to do something a little different from our usual theatre activities. Myself and a few members of the group were able to go on a tour of downtown Rio. It was a great opportunity to see a part of Rio that I have yet to see. Downtown was very busy with a lot of people. There were many shops and vendors that reminded me of a scene from a movie. There were also beautiful landmarks throughout downtown Rio that was remodeled for the 2016 Olympics. We were also able to stop by an art museum where we stood on the top floor and had an a breathtaking view of the ocean.

The last stop of our tour was the Instituto de Pesquisa e Memória Pretos Novos. This is a museum that was built under a cemetery where African slaves were buried. Inside of the museum there were many African artifacts and students researching about the history of African slaves. The museum even showed us a graphic video detailing the slave trade from Africa to Brazil. As a black woman, it was hard for me to watch and process the tragedies that transpired not only in the United States but in Brazil as well. Before leaving the museum, we were able to see an archaeologist at work. In the museum, there is an area where archaeologists can dig to find bones of slaves. We were able to see an archaeologist recover a fully body of a slave woman. It was painful to see the physical body of a slave. I left the museum feeling sad and frustrated. It is still hard to process the mistreatment and the continue mistreatment of people of color worldwide. Unfortunately, violence against black bodies did not end with slavery but it continues with the criminal justice system.

Ashley H mural

I chose this picture because I think it represents the strength that black people have despite being silenced and all the harm they endured.

People of color have been targeted for centuries. From slavery to police brutality, people of color are continuously being harmed by the system that is supposed to protect them. The prisons in the United States is disproportionately filled with people of color. Unfortunately, it is the same in Brazil. I believe going to this museum reconfirmed to me that the issues that is not only affecting the United States but it is a worldwide phenomenon.

There is still a lot of work that needs to be done within the prison system. Coming to Brazil and seeing racial problems similar to the United States makes me want to be hopeless that change will ever happen. While I want to give up, I know that I can start to create change by continuing my work with programs such as PCAP. It is remarkable the work that PCAP and UniRio’s program, Teatro na Prisão, do to find ways to create an expressive outlet for prisoners. While I know I cannot solve all the problems with the prison system overnight, I know that I can start somewhere.

The Excluded People: A post by Asma Ali

14 Jun

Growing up  in the common American discourse of prison walls, my understanding and notion of prisoners is often the common negative stereotype of the hyper-masculine aggressive male. This stereotype allowed me to exclude them from society, and to rationalize their oppression. It was not until my senior year at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor that I first entered the prison walls. I mainly did this through an organization called PCAP- Prison Creative Arts Project. PCAP seeks to bring a diverse group of students, from different courses of study, inside prison walls to do theater workshops/games with the men, women and children locked inside the walls. It was through my work with PCAP at Cooper Street Correctional Facility in Jackson, Michigan, that I learned that the men incarcerated were not this imaginary villain I had in my mind and that they do in fact share common notions of love, respect, and family, that the general population holds dear. I also was stunned at how receptive the men were to theater games. They themselves said that theater games allow them to express themselves in a way that they would be unable to outside the prison walls. Theater games also allow them to put their guard down and provides an avenue for emotional relief. This is particularly why I was interested in going to Brazil. I wanted to see how those oppressed and prison walls are in a different country and if theater is an effective tool in a different land.


Asma in the Tijuca Rainforest

Perhaps the most eye opening moment in my trip to Brazil thus far has been going to the Favelas. A favela is similar to the American notion of “ghetto” but more extremely cut off from the rest of the city. The streets have no addresses, the homes have no numbers, there is no public sanitation system, amongst a wide array of other problems. The favelas are walled off from from the rest of the city, with no city bus or taxi entering it. Those who live in the favela are not counted in the Brazilian census, it is as if they do not exist. They were also the site of Michael Jackson’s “They Don’t Really Care About Us.” Everything I’ve heard, from the news to the guy sitting next to me on the airplane to Brazil, have told me about the dangers of favelas and that to go in there is basically me “asking for trouble or to get hurt.” I recall thinking on the bus ride that if I get hurt I’m blaming Ashley on my death bed.

Katelyn at waterfall

Katelyn Torres at a waterfall.

When we entered, I was utterly shocked at how well favelados (people who live in favelas) built a community without any governmental help. They had their own shops, their own radio show, they managed to provide themselves with their own clean water supply, the children are taught more than one language at school, amongst a large array of qualities. This is by no means to say that they are happy and thriving, but rather from my observation- they managed to do the most with what little they have. Rather than feel scared, I felt a sense of community. Even when I went to the fruit market, the men would offer me free fruit and refused to take my money.


Our group eating traditional Brazilian churrasco.

The group of adults I worked with in the favelas were the most adorable group I encountered in the longest time. They each gave the tightest and longest hugs and would proceed to compliment me and Erich ( the other facilitator from UMICH). I was shocked to see how shy many of the participants were (which is very different than other Brazilians I have met). I was not sure if it was our presence and the notion of wealthy Americans – poor favelados, that made them shy or if it was another factor. Interestingly, by the end of it they were all dancing and singing.


Desserts at the churrasco restaurant.

What I assumed was going to be a less-than favorable day turned out to be my favorite day of the trip. I caught myself realizing that the same stereotypes I had of the incarcerated men, I placed on favelados. Essentially what PCAP and this Brazilian trip taught me was that we are all connected in our desire for humanity and compassion, and that is regardless of our situation or location.


This cat lives at the Mango Tree Hostel where we are staying. His name is Branco, which means White in Portuguese, and Asma has fallen in love with him. She feeds him all day long.


Our first week in Rio, including a visit to a men’s prison: A post by Katelyn Torres

12 Jun

My name is Katelyn Torres. I graduated from the University of Michigan in May, and it is safe to say that the Prison Creative Arts Project courses were some of the best courses I’ve taken throughout my college career. Art has always been a significant part of my life, and whether it was dancing, making music, or painting with acrylics, it has always been my greatest passion. The courses I took at the university also resulted in the cultivation of a new passion; social justice. When I discovered PCAP classes, I realized that they were a mixture of the two, which could not have been more perfect for me. In the course this year, I had the privilege of facilitating a theatre workshop at Cotton Correctional Facility in Jackson, Michigan, with my classmates, Justine, Kevin and Erich. We had a large group of talented, incredibly creative men with whom we truly fell in love. While I was initially nervous to walk into a men’s prison, the room in which we held our workshop each week came to feel like one of the safest spaces in my life. We had so much fun, and the men were so appreciative of the work that we all do through PCAP. I love this work so much. And it just so happens that visiting Rio de Janeiro has always been at the top of my bucket list. I am so grateful for the opportunity to do work that I love in a place to which I’ve always wanted to travel. And what an incredible experience it has been so far.

ocean view

The people that we have interacted with thus far have been so beautiful in so many ways. I’ve noticed that in Brazil, people just seem to care less about how other people choose to dress, act and live their lives. Perhaps it’s different in other parts of the country, or even within other populations in Rio, but in the areas we’ve been exploring this seems to be the consensus. The women are natural. The sun and humidity serve as the makeup that illuminates their faces. Some shave, some don’t. Some wear bras, some don’t. Anything goes when it comes to clothing. And everyone is accepted and loved. I’m finding myself feeling so much better and more comfortable in my own skin- wearing less to no makeup, leaving my hair in its natural state and wearing whatever clothing I feel like wearing.
I’ve never been hugged and kissed more within a two week time span than I have since my arrival in Brazil. I love this aspect of Brazilian culture. It so starkly contrasts the somewhat distant, “Hi, nice to meet you,” (followed my a firm handshake) greeting one would receive in the U.S. Neither is wrong, but the Brazilians’ lack of value placement on personal space makes me feel much more loved and welcome in new spaces.
Brazilians also seem to have a different concept of time and timeliness. If something starts at 8 am, perhaps it will really start at 8:17, or later. They are not incredibly uptight about being on time (to the minute) like we are in the United States. It’s not a rat race. I feel my anxiety levels depleting in this country. It’s a very liberating and stress free atmosphere.
Our first week in Rio was a crazy one, saturated with different classes and workshops and events. We went into Brazilian prisons for the first time, which was an experience that I will not soon forget. My group (4 people) was assigned to the men’s prison, Evaristo de Moraes. This facility used to be a bus terminal but was transformed into a prison. We took the bus to UniRio, met two of the student facilitators and from there, took another bus to the facility. Upon pulling up to the area, the differences between this prison and the one in which I held my workshop in Jackson, Michigan, were immediately apparent. A group of about 40 individuals sat outside beneath a roof waiting either for visits or to drop off items for their loved ones inside. Of the 40 people, all but three were women.
As is anticipated when attempting to enter any prison, we ran into some difficulties getting in. The guard working at our entrance insisted that he did not have the proper authorization and documentation to let the Americans in, even though this had been organized well in advance. So, we returned to our small bus in the dirt parking lot and sat in the back waiting for things to be sorted out. It was about 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and we were in our “prison attire” which always consisted of conservative clothing (often long sleeves and long pants) and closed toe shoes. Leaning my head against the window, I kept the van door open in hopes of ventilating the space with some sort of breeze. This breeze never came. But something else did begin to circulate in the van. I started to hear the soft hum of feminine voices flowing together and looked over to see the group of waiting women forming a circle, holding hands. One woman was speaking to the others. She told them about how necessary it was to pray for their loved ones that were inside of the prison- how much they need their prayer and how much they need God right now. All of the women began to sing a song. I’m not sure what song it was, and I couldn’t understand much of it. But they sang it so beautifully and so passionately that it gave me chills. I could feel the pain and suffering that they’ve endured as a result of their loved one’s predicament; a pain and suffering that is not always acknowledged the way it should be.
The inside of the prison shocked me a bit. It was very dirty. The floors were made of dirt. The walls and the cell bars were riddled with stains and rust. Guards walked around fully padded and armed with intimidating firearms. The men were not in uniforms like those that I was used to seeing in the Jackson prison. They wore flip flops and shorts and t shirts and, to me, sometimes were not distinguishable from those inside who were not incarcerated. The prison was not surrounded by barbed wire, and my group and I spoke about how it looked like it would be much easier to escape from this prison than from those we’d seen in Michigan. We soon came to the realization that while it may seem this way, that is not the case. We learned that guards in Rio prisons use their guns very liberally and will shoot on the spot without much forethought. Or afterthought.
The things we’ve done this week have been diverse, yet they all relate to one another. For example, another of this week’s most prominent experiences occurred on Friday. While half of the group went to see Ashley perform her play in a women’s prison, the other half of us went to take a tour of downtown Rio de Janeiro. It was a bright, sunny day, and we walked around the city looking at old buildings and landmarks. The tour concluded with a visit to a small museum filled with ancient African artifacts. We were taken into a room which looked like it was some sort of construction, and we were led into a connecting room in which a documentary was shown to us. This documentary reflected on slavery in Brazil. The video was difficult to watch, yet incredibly important. I was shocked to discover that slavery was not abolished in Brazil for 30 years after it was in the United States. African American and Afro-Brazilian history have a great deal to do with the way our prisons systems are today, so this was supplementary to our prison work in Brazil. As the documentary continued, it began to discuss slave cemeteries and how the bodies of slaves were handled. It was then that I realized we were sitting on a Brazilian slave cemetery. Exiting the documentary room, still in a daze from the film, we entered the room that appeared to be under construction. It wasn’t. Peering over the edge of a large hole in the ground, I saw an archaeologist with a small brush in one hand and a petite sand shovel in the other. She was kneeling on the dirt, gently brushing an object that I couldn’t quite make out at first. Suddenly , I realized what it was, and this realization hit me hard.
art of woman's face
The archaeologist was brushing away dirt from the skeleton of a woman, a former slave, who had been buried there. The skeleton was still somewhat submerged in the dirt, but the entire body was clearly there and intact. As she gently grazed the woman’s teeth with her brush, a wave of emotion jolted through my body. I’ve watched videos and read books that told me about the horrors of slavery and about the inhumane ways slaves were treated even after death, but it had never felt as real as it did that day.
So far, our trip to Brazil has been filled to the brim with exciting new experiences, many of them life-changing. We’ve met new and incredible people who’ve taught us so much about their culture. We’ve gone on new adventures and tried new foods. And we’ve created bonds and memories that will last a lifetime. I’m so excited to see what the next week holds.
Katelyn on beach

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.
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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