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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.

water

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

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.

churassco

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

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.

Branco

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.
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.

UDESC Prison Arts and Education International Conference: A post by Christa Shelmon

5 Jun

Olá! My name is Christa Shelmon, and I just graduated from Michigan with a Bachelor’s degree in Cultural Anthropology (woot!). This past semester was my first semester being involved with PCAP, and I wish I hadn’t waited until the last semester of my senior year to join.

I facilitated a theater workshop every Saturday morning from 8:30-10:30 am with Brittani Chew at the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility (WHV) in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Waking up that early on a Saturday was not ideal. However, we had an awesome time every week. Our experience was unique in the sense that we concluded our semester with only woman in our workshop—a PCAP first!

I was really interested in coming on this trip, especially after finding out that theater and arts programming was actually a thing in prisons, and the fact that we could do such a thing in a totally different country struck gold for me. I have been learning so much already during this first week in Florianópolis, particularly at the first annual Seminário International de Arte e Educaçao Prisional, hosted by the Universidade do Estado de Santa Catarina (UDESC). This two-day conference featured guest speakers from all across Brazil who spoke about the challenging, yet rewarding work they do in prisons, as well as a concluding presentation by our very own Ashley who explained what PCAP is and what us students do in our weekly workshops. The conference was not catered to us—it was entirely in Portuguese. So, you can imagine how difficult it was for us to follow along. But, with the help of our Brazilian friends, Ashley, and Silvina (the graduate assistant for this trip), we were able to receive translations along the way in order to be present and attentive throughout the conference.

UDESC conf group pic

Michigan students pose with the panelists.

The second day of the conference particular was meaningful to me, for it highlighted many challenges and triumphs that I experienced with the workshop I was a part of this past semester. Day two of the conference consisted of various presentations on the work that was being done in prisons across Brazil. Most, if not all, of the presenters worked in women’s prisons, as I did, so I was that much more curious to listen to the type of workshops and classes they facilitate or teach. Carinie, one of the presenters, had a very interesting presentation that stood out to Brittani and me. Her first experience almost paralleled our workshop at WHV, and we immediately began making connections and comparisons. Initially, Carinie was a student who just wanted to make art and do theater, and did not think too deeply into the prison institution itself. She reflected on how she did not realize the effects of the prison institution until after two years of facilitating workshops. I found this to be relevant for me as well, and it is very hard to know how things are going to go each time you visit the prison. Some days are better than others—it’s so situational. This has been frustrating for many of us at PCAP.

Later, Carinie talked about how at times she found it hard to connect with the women, especially as a twenty-one year old college student who didn’t have as much life experience as some of the women she worked with. She also discussed how many women were experiencing depression, which obviously hindered them from participating in the workshop at their best ability, or how the prison staff failed to communicate to the women about her absence, leaving her in a tangled web of angry women and careless workers.

Finally, Carinie mentioned how the women opted out of a final performance at the end of the semester, and instead vied for sharing out their experiences with others instead of putting on a show. Listening to Carinie’s story allowed us to reflect on things we could have done differently in workshop. Brittani and I were so inspired, that we went to speak with her one-on-one during the break, just to get some feedback and let her know how similar our situations were. Carinie could understand English, but could not speak it very well, and therefore Silvina helped translate during our conversation. She was very insightful and appreciative of us going up to her and sharing out our feelings. After talking with her for a few minutes, she revealed that she, too, finished her semester with one woman in her workshop. This was heartwarming, and made that moment even more special. She left us with some really good advice of focusing on the work and not the grade—it is important to always consider the needs of our workshop group. She also reminded us that persistence is key, and although we may not be able to see the impact we had on the group, do not let that deter you. “Just one, that’s all it takes to make a difference!”

After the other five presentations, the presenters formed a panel for a question and answer discussion. The final question asked what inspired or motivated each individual to continue doing the work that they do, despite the trials and challenges they face daily. The entire panel gave beautiful answers, closing out the forum portion of the conference. It was an amazing opportunity to hear from individuals who are striving to be the change they want to see in the world, and served as motivation to never give up, despite how tough it may be to crack the system.

UDESC conf Q&A

Question and answer time after the panel.

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