"Don't come here..."
One of the central themes in our work is “protagonismo social” or social activism (based on critical reflection), or in other words, active participation in the social world, the public sphere. And where better to take the resounding voice of experience than to juvenile prisons, where the dark experience of incarceration can become a tool for change? As early as 2005, the men of Fénix & Ilusiones formulated and dreamt the idea of working directly with young men and boys in detention. Since 2014, this has taken flight, in collaboration with the Chilean National Youth Service (SENAME), whereby we are playing an active role in short-circuiting the so-called “normalized prison culture” that entraps many poor families, caught up in the day-to-day grind of prison visits, organizing the entry of food and other items, arranging lawyers and attending trials, etc). We have developed two ways of affecting this phenomenon: Theatre and Reflection Tours and Workshops.
THEATRE AND REFLECTION TOURS / The power of theatre combined with the voice of experience
In September 2013, Colectivo Sustento together with Fénix & Ilusiones, presented Modecate to young people from a Special Youth Intervention Program (Joven en Red, Maipú) in the Recoleta Cultural Centre, as a pilot event; the impact on all of us was so powerful that the idea came of age. Modecate went on tour.
“Modecate Tour: Creating social awareness“, 7 ‘theatre and reflection’ days in 3 SENAME detention centres (San Joaquín, San Bernardo, Santiago Centro) ran from June to August 2014. In each centre, as well as performing the play, the Fénix & Ilusiones actors directed theatre games with the boys, informal conversation and a final open debate with the boys and centre staff. These events became moments of deep reflection, demonstrating once more the powerful impact that adult prisoners and ex-prisoners can have on boys in detention, perhaps even provoking a demystification of these “heroes”.
In 2016, we went on tour again to juvenile justice programs with Fénix & Ilusiones, the “Lysistrata: No to Gender Violence Tour”. Based on learnings from the Modecate Tour, the program was again designed and directed by the Colina 1 actors and Colectivo Sustento (theatre workers and ex-Fénix e Ilusiones). The 4 Theatre and Reflection Days in the SENAME centre in San Bernardo included performances by “Hijos del Rigor” (Sons of Severity), the theatre group formed through our workshops in the centre’s House 3. Finally, we toured to a YMCA youth offender community program, where we worked with young people from various sectors of Santiago.
WORKSHOPS / Creating and reflecting together
From January to April 2015, thanks to a crowdfunding campaign outside Chile, we were able to run the “Sowing the future” project: gardening workshops in two SENAME centres (San Bernardo and Calera de Tango), directed by two Colectivo Sustento members: Gabriel Jiménez, technically trained in organic agriculture, and Mo Stenger, school garden teacher. The garden, like theatre, is a pretext; a way to work towards social change. The project was filmed by two collective members – Bárbara Fuenzalida and Carolina Vera – you can watch their documentary in our Youtube channel here.
From October 2015 to October 2016, we ran theatre workshops in House 3 of the SENAME Centre in San Bernardo. The young men in the theatre workshop, called “Hijos del Rigor”, created a group-devised performance: high energy physical theatre to the beat of techno music chosen by them. This workshop was initially funded for only 5 months by a Regional Government Development Program, but we extended it to 12 months because of our commitment to the young men, until conditions at the centre impeded the work’s continuity.
Since 2016, at the SENAME centre in Calera de Tango, we are working with other ways of using theatre and gardening to make direct contact with young offenders. We were invited to add our participative theatre methodology to the prosocial workshops run by centre staff. Through improvisations, games and role play, a duo of facilitators (Sustento theatre worker with an ex-Fénix e Ilusiones) work with the boys to identify and practice different social skills. In 2017, we added a gardening workshop to develop their community garden space, and a theatre workshop aimed at stimulating group work, respect and creativity. We perform for the young peer group at the centre.
In 2018, we continue to develop these opportunities that allow us to work directly with young people detained in the Chilean penal system, provoking joy, creativity and critical reflection.
We are constantly seeking ways to give this work economic continuity. Lack of funds does not drive our decisions in this work; our strategies are multiple and ongoing, inside and outside Chile.