Ayer fuimos en la penitenciaria de Santa Martha. Alla hay un teatro y los presos son actores. El teatro es una forma de catarsis y en este manera ellos pueden sentir un poquito libertad. Ellos practican por 2-3 anos casi cada dia por dos horas. Tambien ellos escriben el escript juntos.

El teatro como catarsis en un penal. (FOTO: Eladio Ortiz)
Rosario Reyes 24.03.2015 Última actualización 25.03.2015 ETIQUETAS aef Teatro Culturas Foro Shakespeare Santa Martha Acatitla El teatro como catarsis en un penal. (FOTO: Eladio Ortiz)

We went to a penitentiary yesterday to watch a play called El Mago Dioz. The prisoners were the actors and writers. The play was a full production, with smoke, lights, artistic sets, costumes, a live band, and audience participation. I’ve seen plays in Hollywood with less investment.

The play was a play on words. Mago means Wizard. Dioz, spelled correctly, is Dios – God. But Dioz played on the words ‘de Oz’ –  of Oz. Mago De Oz is the Wizard of Oz, but ‘El Mago Dioz’ was much more loaded. The play presented a subtext wherein the actors shared their perception that freedom was the ability to live their dreams through teatre. The truth is I understood about 5% of what was going on in the play so I missed a lot – pero ni modo. Because a huge impact was made on me.

There was a Q&A with the actors afterwards. One of the prisoners spoke about how they are treated like scum, rats, cockroaches, etc and theatre gave them a chance to be seen as something different. Another prisoner asked us not to applaud saying that this was their life and acting gave them a chance to live their dreams. One of the actors asked people (who appeared to speak Spanish) in the audience what their dreams were or what they wanted to be/do in life. He asked a little boy sitting next to me who appeared to be about 4 years old, and the boy answered “mas grande”. The actor asked again about his dreams and the boy answered “I want to play the guitar”. In that moment I thought to myself, somewhere between the ages 4 to 17, 18, 20, 25, however young some of these prisoners are, choices were made that landed them in this prison in Mexico City. Their path was such that their definition of freedom was demonstrated by the opportunity to act, then interact with the outside world. They stood facing their audience in a straight line, tearing up when answering questions, genuine in their responses, and completely, utterly relatable. The decisions they made based on circumstances, environment, or perhaps being in the wrong place at the wrong time, brought them to this destiny. Some of them may spend a considerable amount, if not all of their lives, in this penitentiary.

On our way out I said good-bye and was affected by eye contact.
“Gracias”.  “Gracias a ti.”
That was all we could say. But what I wanted to say was,  who are you, what happened, where is your family, what is it like in here, did you kill somebody, do you ever get to leave? Because I do. I am leaving right now. I am leaving with my guilt, sadness, curiosity, naivete.

What makes me any different? Why am I lucky? Plenty of people act in ways that can land them in jail, possibly prison, but never set foot in one. What makes them/us different? Why are we lucky?

After being processed, I left the building, my U.S. passport in hand, heading toward a bus that would take me to a city that is not mine but where I am free enough to wander safely in the streets, looking for a place to dine with friends. I would go back to a hot shower, large bed, and wake up the next day to see the sky, open and close the doors when I want to, and not have to line up 122329873 times a day.

One student said the experience made her think of how to practice her freedom differently. Another person spoke to me about how close he was to sharing in that path to prison. I thought about how futile my complaints are.

Someone said that perhaps they did a really bad thing and are facing the consequences. Yes, that is likely to be true. But I wonder about the circumstances leading up to that act. Did this person have a real chance? And who decides? Enough people are falsely accused, wrongfully incriminated, and released years later to a life that is not theirs. Where is the justice then?

So many thoughts were swirling and I am left with this: Freedom is relative. I am free.