The thought of entering the prison system, for anyone, is psychological torment. No matter how heinous the crime, once your freedom is taken away you’re left feeling just as alienated from society as everyone else in prison. That coupled with constricting, unsanitary living conditions and, in some cases, abusive staff, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to remain sane, let alone find redemption and be rehabilitated.
Brazil’s solution? Ayahuasca. That’s right. While some of the country’s prisons offer yoga sessions, meditation and Reiki, Acuda – a prisoners’ rights advocacy group – has gone as far as providing prisoners with the opportunity to take an unorthodox approach to redemption through the use of Ayahuasca tea.
Euza Beloti, a psychologist who works with Acuda, told the New York Times that “Many people in Brazil believe that inmates must suffer, enduring hunger and depravity. This thinking bolsters a system where prisoners return to society more violent than when they entered prison. [At Acuda] we simply see inmates as human beings with the capacity to change”. Acuda’s therapists join the inmates in the Ayahuasca ceremony, as do the prison guards on occasion. “This is how it should be,” said 55 year old prison guard, Virgílio Siqueira. “It’s gratifying to know that we can sit here in the forest, drink our Daime, sing our hymns, exist in peace”.
Acuda’s movement is in stark contrast to the ever growing conservatism among the Brazilian population. With criminality and violence continuing, full strength, on the streets of the South American Federative Republic, one can hardly be surprised at leather factory manager Paulo Freitas question, “Where are the massages and the therapy for us?”. The kidnap, rape and murder of Paulo’s 18 year old daughter, Naiara Freitas, in 2013 stunned many people in Porto Velho, the Freitas’ home municipality. However, one must ask themselves whether they want justice at the expense of the safety of their streets and country, or “injustice” for a criminal’s real chance at rehabilitation and redemption. “We are considered the trash of Brazil”, said inmate Darci Altair Santos da Silva, who’s serving a 13 year sentence for sexual abuse of a minor, “but this place accepts us. I know what I did was very cruel. The tea helped me reflect on this fact, on the possibility that one day I can find redemption”.
The convicted, depending on the length of their sentence, will eventually leave the prison system and join society again. They cannot walk out the same person they walked in as 13 years is plenty of time to change.
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