While abroad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, I had the amazing opportunity to visit two different prisons and participate in theater workshops in them. In our winter semester class, we were able to co-facilitate workshops at Prisons in Michigan. I co-facilitated a theater workshop at Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Having experienced working with women in Michigan, I was very interested to see how it would compare to working with people incarcerated in Brazil. During my first week abroad, I was able to visit a women’s prison and participate in a theater workshop facilitated by a couple of students from the University of Rio. Since the workshops are relatively small, only a few of us (the American group) participated in this workshop. Others were grouped in different workshops at different prisons. I was group with three other women from America, one of who was our translator graduate student. This morning we had to be ready to leave by 6:15am. We had a long ride to the prison. First, we took the city bus to the University of Rio in order to catch another bus from there to the prison. It took about two hours total to get to the prison. It took quite a while for the workers at the prison to actually let us in. I suppose they may have been skeptical because we were foreigners. However, when we got to the “bubble” process, it didn’t take nearly as long as it took in Michigan. The “bubble” is where the security guards check to make sure that you don’t have any contraband before entering the prison. In Rio, all we had to do was sign our names and walk through a metal detector. On the other hand in Michigan, we had to walk through a metal detector, take off our shoes and socks, show them the bottom of our feet, manifest anything we brought it, and the guards had to pat us down. The structures of the buildings were not built as well as the buildings of the prisons in Michigan. Many of the buildings were only partially indoors, and they had no central air.
Despite the buildings’ poor structures, I noticed that it did not seem to affect the women’s attitudes. There was an overall sense of kindness and what seemed to be happiness around the prison. In Michigan, while most of the women in my workshop grew to really like us, the women we passed in the hallways or outside did not seem happy, which I could definitely understand why.
We began the workshop by introducing ourselves. We played a name game to try and remember everyone’s name. In this game we stood in a circle, and one person would say another person’s name in the circle. The person who said the name would go to take the spot of the person’s name they said, but before they get to the person’s spot the person whose name was said has to say another name and start moving. The game is tons of fun and gets silly really quickly. We played a few more fun games, and then we wrapped up the workshop. I think these games are great especially when there are new people to a workshop (us foreigners) because it definitely breaks the ice. More importantly, for the women incarcerated, it gives them a chance to have a break from their normal routines and they are given a sense of autonomy.
For more information on the GCC Brazil program, visit the CGIS website.