Podcast: Dancing With Thieves In São Paulo’s Favelas

In this episode CALLY MAGALHĀES shares a story so remarkable it's being made into a feature film. In the Brazilian prison in which she worked, she started a drama project where youth offenders reenact the crimes that put them in prison in the first place. But crucially, they play the role of their victims. Here she explains how this idea has led to a 70-80% reduction in reoffending rates. Listen to the episode here or read the highlights below.


Psychodrama and rehabilitation

Psychodrama is a form of group psychotherapy. As participants act out different situations using drama and role play, they gain a greater insight into their own lives, and the lives of the people around them.

Cally Magalhães and her team are finding this approach to be very effective in their rehabilitation work with boys and young men in São Paulo’s youth prisons.

Cally says, ‘We put the boys into scenes - all made up on the spot - and they go into the role of their victim, or their victim’s family, or the police officer who arrested them, or their mum, or their children…

‘When they are lying on the floor, in the role of the victim who has just been shot in a mugging (for example) it is like something changes inside them and they say, “I just realise now what I’m doing - I’m doing something so wrong, I want to change.”’

Normally, most of the boys released from the youth prisons reoffend after a few weeks because of the difficult situations they go home to in the city slums. However, an evaluation of Cally’s programme found that as long as the boys complete at least ten sessions of psychodrama, 70 to 80 per cent of them do not reoffend.

More than a course

Cally and her team build strong relationships with the boys and continue to support them after they have left prison. Cally says, ‘In the first session we say to them, “This isn’t a course, this is the beginning of a friendship. We want to walk alongside you. We want to help you in whatever way we possibly can. If you need help, and you want to change, and you want to leave your life of crime behind and start a different future, then we are with you.” They look at us as if to say “No-one has ever said that to me in my life!”’

Through the process the boys learn to dream of a better future, and most decide to live differently. However, when they leave prison it can be difficult for them to meet their own needs, and the needs of their families, without committing crimes again.

Cally says, ‘We accompany the boys and their families afterwards. We help them to do courses, get into work… whatever they need in order to not reoffend. If it means buying them a pair of trainers so they can go for an interview, we’ll buy them a pair of trainers.

‘We accompany them very closely in the first few months because that is a critical time when they are likely to reoffend. Then, as they begin to find their feet, we become less involved.’

Bigger vision

‘I believe that we have got something that really works, and the prison staff believe it too,’ says Cally. ‘There are some things happening around the world with psychodrama in prisons, but there could be so much more.’

Cally and her team have recently been invited to work with the prison staff, as well as the prisoners. She says, ‘If you work with staff, you are not only going to help the people in the prison, but you are actually going to help the whole prison environment. My other dream is that we will become part of the training of the police force in São Paulo, and maybe the whole of Brazil.’


Learn more about Cally's work on The Eagle Project's Facebook page.