[Documents menu] Documents menu

Sender: o-imap@webmap.missouri.edu
Date: Tue, 22 Apr 97 19:28:59 CDT
From: Sabina Astete <astetesg@igc.apc.org>
Subject: Nun Reports on Brazilian Women's Prison Conditions
Article: 9596

Escrito 3:09 PM Apr 22, 1997 por mmason en igc:headlines
Edited/Distributed by HURINet - The Human Rights Information Network

## author : sejup@ax.apc.org
## date : 14.03.97

NEWS FROM BRAZIL supplied by SEJUP (Servico Brasileiro de Justica e Paz)
Number 266, March 13 1997

Brazilian Women's Prison Conditions

SEJUP (Servico Brasileiro de Justica e Paz), News from Brazil, No. 226, 13 March 1997

Catholic nun reports on prison conditions in Sao Paulo

Interview by Fabio Guedes, Correio da Cidadania

Every year, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Brazil selects an important and relevant theme to be reflected upon in the churches in the whole country during Lent, and which then continues for the whole year. This year the issue is the prison system, and for this reason we reprint here the following interview made by the Correio da Cidadania newspaper, to Sister Martha Cecilia Iepes (48), a Dominican sister from Colombia who is living in Sao Paulo. She wanted to spend the six weeks of Lent in the womens' wing of Carandiru prison and gives her impressions.

Correio: Was it your own idea to spend 40 days with the women in prison?

Martha Cecilia: Yes, I had worked in other pastorals, principally with rural workers and popular feminist movements and when I came to Brazil, I had not thought about working in a prison pastoral, but I began to work with Latin American immigrants and as there were many foreigners in prison, we began to visit the women's wing in Carandiru. The first time I went there was to see a play. The women showed important events in the feminist struggle in Latin America and this was very meaningful for me. It touched me, and it was for this reason that I began to work in the prison pastoral. As the Lenten theme is the prison system, I had the idea of spending 40 days with the women - it was my own personal need - of spirituality and solidarity.

C: How did you see the prison system before this experience?

MC: I imagined a life that was very sad, depressing and violent, on the part of the prisoners but also of the guards and the authorities. When I discovered in Carandiru a certain political conscience, glimpses of dignity, of resistance, this was all new to me. I wanted to sleep in the cells during this time, but that was not possible. I know that all the women are problematic, but they all have yearnings. For this reason I asked permission to spend time with them and the judge agreed but only during the day.

C: How did you find the treatment of the women by the guards?

MC: I saw women being punished by being put in solitary, but I did not see anyone being physically punished. They tell me however, that the guards throw them on the floor and beat them.

C: Are the women aware that their human rights have been taken away?

MC: Yes, they always ask me to get a lawyer, as the state lawyers do not function and the ones who work in the pastoral are not able to cope with so many cases. The women tell me that the greatest problems they have are in the legal and health areas. There are pregnant women in prisons which do not have day care for children. They are forced to hand over the child, when two days old, to their families, or to a judge. They do not have the right to breast feed their own child.

C: What are the living conditions like?

MC: This prison was built according to male logic. There is no life energy from a woman's perspective. The discipline, rules, uniforms, are all masculine. Cells are full. There are 430 female prisoners and they sleep two to a cell with a minimum of space.

C: What is the day to day living like?

MC: The women have almost no freedom. They shower at 6.30am, then go down for breakfast. Those who are being punished remain locked up all day long. The rest go and work from 8am to 5pm. At noon, they return for lunch. It is just like a concentration camp. If there is a lack of coffee, cigarrettes or food, then there is a rebellion.

C: How do the women treat you?

MC: When they were told that I would spend Lent in the prison, they were happy and liked the idea. On the first day, a female guard, who did not know why I was there, gave me a prison uniform. I was pleased, but the women did not understand, they wondered if I was a prisoner or if I was from the police. I told them I worked in the pastoral.

C: After spending two weeks with the women, has it become easier to understand why there are rebellions in Brazilian prisons?

MC: Yes. They are forced to work hard all day, watched by guards. The food is precarious due to supply problems. There is no human support, no psychological help, no warmth, no concern. They are marginalized.

C: Do you believe that Brazilian prisons are able to recuperate people?

MC: No, the women themselves say there's no way to change their life.

C: Do you think the women have hope, or are they more inclined to feel rejected?

MC: Most of them have hope that they will be able to leave the prison. They work hard all week in order to gain benefits, to be able to get out earlier. They want to be out in the street, free.

C: Recently, Bishop Dom Silverio was assaulted during a mass for prisoners in Feira de Santana (BA). Someone later commented on TV: Serves the church right for defending thieves, that's what happens. What position do you think society should take in this case?

MC: I believe that it is our duty to get to know the problem from within so that we can struggle to improve the conditions and rights of the men and women who are in jail. I also believe that we have to discuss the problem, speak of the dignity of these people and not be cruel to the point of considering them the dregs of society. We are very tolerant of our own mistakes, but very intolerant of the mistakes of others. Our struggle, the struggle of anyone who feels solidarity, is against the prejudice and cruelty that exist in our society.

Prisoners' Comments

Extracts from A Producao da Esperanca (The Production of Hope), Carandiru Prison, Sao Paulo

By Maria Emilia Guerra Ferreira, 1996

When we arrive in the prison system we are treated mechanically as if we are all the same, as if our faults are all equal, with no difference between us

From the time we are charged, we are treated like animals, with shouts, beatings, electric shocks, etc. They don't really know what we did, but nevertheless they beat us. As if we were animals

The police within the prison cannot be decent. They are on the other side. When they are in a group, they treat us badly. When one of them is alone, and depending on his mood, we can be lucky

What the police are interested in is money. If we have money, they try to bargain - so do we. It's all or nothing. We will do anything to get out of here but if we make a mistake, we will get more time. A lot of the police are more corrupt than thieves, if we have money they keep all of it and let us free. Some take our car, our home, everything, even our woman

When we arrive in the prison for the first time, we feel amazed, scared, confused because we hear so much outside, we are afraid that the things we hear about will happend to us The prison is like a depository. People are thrown in there and abandoned. The prisoner has to fend for her(him)self in order to get things - even a mattress to sleep on, and a cell

Prisons do not recuperate people, they do not educate. On the contrary, they destroy feelings, are degrading, create addictions, pervert, corrupt and brutalize human beings. As if this was not enough, there is blatant stealing of food, medicine, cleaning and hygienic products by corrupt guards who force and blackmail prisoners and steal from them in every possible way.