On Friday, half of our group got up early to get to our last round of prison workshops. I was in a group with Eddie and Christian heading to the Evaristo de Moraes prison for men, while Hannah, Lisa, Julia, Elaina, and Kym went to the Oscar Stevenson prison for women. The UniRio bus dropped off our group at the men’s prison first and then went on to the women’s prison to drop off the other facilitators. We had some trouble getting in, as folks did last week, because the prison staff are overwhelmed with other visitors and volunteers, because their prison bureaucracy is a mess, and because they have the power to make us wait.
As my group waited, the UniRio facilitators received a text message saying that the group that went to the women’s prison was turned away upon arrival because the entire prison was having what we call in the U.S. a shake down. That means that the prison staff were searching each cell for contraband, and our facilitators were told that workshop could not happen because they were using the workshop space to search every possession that each woman had. Even the furniture in each room was being removed so that it could be searched. Our facilitators ended up spending about four hours in transit and waiting at the prison, only to be turned away. The women inside faced a far more grim fate—a day with no programming in which they and all of their meager worldly belongings would be strip searched.
Our group at the men’s prison did finally get admitted, except for one of the regular UniRio facilitators whose name was bizarrely left off the security clearance list for the day. That prison had a change in warden two days ago and seemed to be in administrative tumult. The good news is that the new warden has a degree in social work and seems very supportive of Teatro na Prisão.
Today’s workshop is a weekly theatre group made up of trans women living in a men’s prison. These are folks who were born as biological males but identify as women. The warden casually referred to this as the “gay group,” but trans identity is something more specific and distinct from being gay. In Brazil trans people have the right to choose their own names, which even government entities like the prison have to use. We met trans women in the workshop today with chosen names like Pandora, Rita, and Cassandra. There were around thirty trans women in this group, and they were all thoroughly delightful.
One woman named Hannah was a professional clown and is eager to do clowning in the theatre workshop. Many of the group who came to today’s workshop were there for the first time, and they were all so happy to be able to dance and play games. We had a very short workshop because we were let into the prison so late and because once we got inside we were delayed first by the warden wanting to chat with the folks from the U.S. and by the women not immediately appearing in the workshop room because they weren’t sure if we were coming after we’d had so many delays in getting into the prison. We played a lively dancing game, and then it was time to leave. The women were very eager to hug us and kiss us on both cheeks, and that makes this work so much easier. It was a beautiful workshop, despite it being too brief.
In the afternoon we went to Prof. Paulo Merisio’s wonderful theatre pedagogy class, which I’m too exhausted to describe. It was really great, or ótimo, as the Brazilians say.
The next day, on Saturday, I asked José to lead our group to the workshops at Favela da Maré in my absence, because last night I didn’t sleep well at all. By all accounts (and some cute pictures and videos), everything went splendidly. We visit the workshops in the favelas two weeks in a row. In the first week, the UniRio facilitators and the workshop participants show us what they do.
In the second week, we visit the same workshops we’d attended the Saturday before, and this time it was our turn to facilitate the workshops. Our students planned their workshops together, as they do when they’re preparing to go to PCAP workshops in Michigan, and they made sure that the children and adults in this mornings workshops had a great time. Apparently, there was much singing and dancing, accompanied by lots of hugs and smiles. I’m really sorry to have missed it but proud of José and the students for doing such a great job without me.
This was our last work of the trip! Thank you for reading along as we traveled.
Boa noite one last time from Rio.