San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Dance show liberates Costa Rican inmates


Activities like Friday´s dance show involving a dozen prisoners from Buen Pastor women’s prison in San José might be one way to reduce overcrowding in Costa Rica´s prison system.
When prisoners begin to see themselves as other than addicts, thieves or drug dealers, they will be better equipped to leave these practices behind when they re-enter society, said María Laura Mora, who has been studying rehabilitation processes in the country´s prisons for a little more than a year.
The sold-out performance of “Un Día Menos,” which was performed last Friday at the National Culture Center, offers prisoners a creative outlet along with added confidence to help them pursue job opportunities and hobbies when they get out of prison.
“I think art works,” said Mora. “When they have access to art, to dance, to theater or literature, it allows them to talk about everything. It allows them to escape stigmas and become something other than an addict or a criminal.”
As prisons in the country begin to surpass their capacity, exploring new rehabilitation techniques is one way to keep the prison population down. A factor that often strangles forward progress and hinders the rehabilitation of prisoners is drug use, Mora said.
According to statistics from the Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Institute (IAFA), roughly 80 percent of drug addicts who are sent to prison return to using drugs after they are released. The main reason for this, Mora said, is the lack of support programs as well as the fact that drugs are accessible even behind the closed doors of the prison system.
“Rehabilitation programs in the country’s prisons are mostly self-help,” said Mora, who visits a study group of recovering addicts in prison at least twice a month. “There are social workers, but they are unreliable and often don’t express interest in helping.”
Mora said a common perception among Ticos is that most drug addicts will remain addicts forever. This can be debilitating to the recovery process because addicts adopt this perception as part of their self-identity. Another challenge that prisoners face is the lack of support networks to combat their drug addictions.
“They feel very alone,” said Mora. “When they leave prison, their families don’t want to see them or help them find a job. It’s a difficult process and for that reason, many people fall back into drug use.”
The smiles of pride worn by the dozen women who skipped across the stage on Friday touched the hearts of audience members. Only months ago, these women were dismissed as criminals. Now, they held the spotlight and received applause for doing something right. Mora hopes that the success these women experienced on the stage will translate into life after prison.

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