Crime & Justice

Young offenders in Bolivia learn the liberating power of art

By Yolanda Salazar

Viacha, Bolivia, May 6 (EFE).- Inmates at Bolivia’s Qalauma prison for youthful offenders have come to know the potential of art as a medium to express feelings they can’t put into words and a way of acquiring skills that will boost their chances of success when they return to the world.

Works produced by some 40 inmates who took part in the two-week “paint brushes of Qalauma” workshop were shown in an exhibition at the facility in Viacha, about 30 km (19 mi) from La Paz.

The participants learned the basics of tone, light and shadow, and forms, starting with vases and moving on to living beings, artist and instructor Jhony Pari told Efe.

“It’s not just a workshop, but rather an advantage and a great opportunity for their future careers, which could be in design, art, architecture,” Pari said. “The boys have seen a very big possibility.”

The students’ sketches and paintings of vases, dogs, cats, parrots, jaguars, leopards, and humans are displayed inside a structure on the prison grounds marked “Espacio Cultural” (Cultural Space).

“I chose to paint a leopard, with which I very much identify for its appearance, for the instinct of protection, of survival, of standing guard,” inmate and budding artist Grover told Efe.

The workshop allowed him to discover a knack for drawing that he never knew he had and demonstrated his capacity to learn new things, building confidence that he can make the most of a second chance.

Grover, who has spent more than five years behind bars for his involvement in a murder, acknowledged “the bad things” while affirming his belief that God is giving him another opportunity.

Another graduate of the workshop, Cristian, drew the face of a man with his eyes closed and a tear rolling down his cheek.

That image accurately represents how he feels much of the time, but the act of making art is liberating, he told Efe.

Looking ahead to his release, Cristian’s ambition is to become a tattoo artist.

Qalauma offers a wide range of programs, including equine therapy and vocational training in disciplines such as carpentry and baking, with the aim of ensuring that each of the 352 inmates will leave prison ready to rejoin society, warden Fernando Susara told Efe.

Instituted in 2019, equine therapy is one of the most popular options.

“The horse awakens the empathy of people who often are blocked at the emotional level,” according to the staff psychologist at Qalauma, Doris Cruz.

The success of the equine therapy prompted the prison to launch a similar program using dogs. EFE ysm/dr

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