Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Good News - Jailbreak!!

April 4, 2009 and 27 inmates from the Davao City jail stood silently on stage at the CAP auditorium, waiting nervously. Were they waiting to be arrested or presented to the media as "criminals" or "menaces to society?" No, rather - curtains, lights and the show began!

I was sitting in the balcony with my wife and friends, and several co-workers were scattered through the audience. We had bought tickets to attend an original musical-drama tracing the real-life stories of jail inmates, performed entirely by inmates, their families and guards from the Davao City Jail. And once the show began, we were drawn in, even though much of the dialogue and lyrics were in Filipino. Here were real "criminals", now actors in their own stories, participating in an act of liberation. Gone were the concerns about how far the front row would be from the actors, or if they would be handcuffed etc.. Now we were all equalized in the realizations that: they had a story to tell us; that we needed to hear it; and the theatrical process of doing so would break the stereotypes of prisoners as social outcasts and rejects. The jail inmates were now participants in what some consider the soul of a society's civilization - theater - and they were good! (see this positive review in our local paper).

It is likely that was a historical event, 27 prisoners temporarily released to perform in a public venue. Historical because the criminal justice system, often cast by reform activists as the oppressor of prisoners, played (literally) a supporting role in an exercise of liberation. A co-worker told me later how she was brought to tears during the performance as the scales fell from her eyes with the realization that if the inmates could perform at that level of expertise, they could do anything. Another friend told me how her son hung back, waiting and wanting to talk with the stars of the show. Wow. Could this be true?

Will an event such as this help us re-think our approach to crime, consequences and restoration in our society? Perhaps. Prisons and jails are overcrowded around the world. Research has shown that while their costs are high, their benefits are low. Perhaps all that is needed to make the change is liberation from the prison of our own mind. Will you jailbreak?

No comments:

Post a Comment