Play brings art therapy to female prisoners

This post is also available in: Spanish

By Charles Conn

The Female Rehabilitation Center.

The Female Rehabilitation Center.

Tormenta Creativa has teamed up with the Panama’s National Penitentiary System to bring audiences a unique theatrical spectacle called “834: Vidas Detrás del Muro” (834: Lives Behind the Wall). The show stars female inmates in Panama’s penal system and brings to light their stories. It takes place through Sunday, June 15 at 7:30 p.m. at Teatro Balboa.

This “expressive art therapy program” began in 2006 under the auspices of then-first lady, Vivian Fernández de Torrijos. Considered a “project of prevention,” the play dramatizes the lives of actual prisoners serving time at Panama’s Women’s Jail (Cárcel de Mujeres) in the district of Juan Díaz. The “834” of the title represents the number of inmates at the time of the first show. While the number has since increased, it remains a symbol for the impersonalized statistic one becomes when serving time.

The actresses were carefully chosen from the pool of inmates as part of their rehabilitation into society. To prepare for being on stage, they received psychological counseling as well as a rigorous training in dance, singing and acting. Cristóbal Muñoz, the producer of the show, explained that “we needed to uplift the girls from the depressing environment of jail to get them ready to be on stage.”

Cristóbal is the director of Tormenta Creativa, an entertainment production company which has been keen on helping these young women reenter society. His wife, María Cecilia Triana, works on the choreography.

“We have girls here from Panama, Venezuela, Colombia as well as three Americans, two of whom are Jamaican American,” she told us. One of the Americans is Kimberly Grant, a young woman from Florida who got caught in a scheme trying to bring illicit substances through Tocumen International Airport. She has been imprisoned since June of 2010 and expects to be released next year.

Cristóbal Muñoz brings art therapy to female inmates in Panama’s penitentiary system.

Cristóbal Muñoz brings art therapy to female inmates in Panama’s penitentiary system.

“I appreciate and understand things completely differently now,” she said. “Being involved in this play has been nice, sort of like a getaway. My message to people is to be conscious about the decisions you are making in life. The stories here go from homicide to robbery to drug trafficking. Please be careful of what you do.”

María Cecilia echoes this sentiment: “One of our messages is that it is very difficult to be in prison. The women here suffer as well as their families. Sometimes a bad decision like selling drugs will take you to an even worse place. Being here will stop all your dreams.

“We also hope that Panama will begin to see that art therapy is very good and that if we give our children more opportunities, we will see them changed; they will grow. These girls will go back to society. We expect to give them a second chance, but we also need to think about all these people outside of jail and give them the opportunity before they encounter being here.”

Tickets to the play are available through Blockbuster and at the box office and cost $13, $18 and $25. More information can be found at Facebook.com/vidasdetrasdelmuro.

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