A new documentary that follows the ground-breaking methods of APAC in prisons worldwide is shown to prisoners in Louisiana. The warden shares their response.
In the 1970s, a group of Christians involved in the activities of the prison ministry of São Paulo, Brazil, began to spend time with some inmates of the São José dos Campos prison. At first their intention was mainly to accompany the incarcerated people through the dramatic situation in which they found themselves, due in part to the terrible conditions of overcrowding and to the inhumane and violent treatment within the Brazilian prisons. From that initial commitment was born a group of Christian volunteers, led by the Catholic lawyer Mario Ottoboni. The group decided to call themselves Amando o Próximo Amarás a Cristo (By Loving your Neighbor you Love Christ). Thus was born the first APAC. That experience would forever change their lives as well as those of thousands of Brazilian inmates. In 1974, that group of volunteers decided to take a further step by founding the Association for the Protection and Assistance of the Condemned (APAC), a civil society association that collaborates closely with the prison administration. A judge later requested that the Association manage a prisoner pavilion, first in the Humaita prison (São José dos Campos), then in that of Itaúna in Minas Gerais. This request was decisive for the history of APAC—it spurred a continuous growth of the APAC experience. Today, there are more than 50 APACs in Brazil. The method of APAC is recognized by the United Nations, and has now spread to twenty-three other countries. The prison’s methodology is rooted in the principles of restorative justice, which emphasizes the importance of rehab and recovery of the person. This reflects much of the Church’s Social Doctrine. These kinds of prisons are without police, uniforms, barbed wire, humiliating body searches, weapons, or handcuffs. Those who enter APAC do so as human beings “Here enters the man, the crime stays outside” says one of the slogans on the walls of APAC. From 2019-2020, a documentary entitled Unguarded was filmed inside the APAC prison, directed by Simonetta d’Italia-Wiener and produced by T.J. Berden with the support of AVSI - USA and the 4th Purpose Fondation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to transforming the lives of the incarcerated.
Thanks to the 4th Purpose Foundation and the partnership with Simonetta d’Italia-Wiener, Unguarded was screened for the first time on May 27, 2021, inside an American prison at the Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office Transitional Work Program in Louisiana.
Here is the beautiful email we received from Captain Davis, the warden of the prison, after the screening.
Good Morning Ma’am,
Thank you again for giving us the opportunity to watch Unguarded last night. The documentary was uplifting to us all; everyone (incarcerated men, volunteers, and staff) took something away from it, especially hope.
For me it was rejuvenating, a reminder of why I come to work every day. Stories such as this one refuel my desire to see something different for the men and women who are incarcerated. I will always believe that we must make a change in the way we incarcerate people if we want a different outcome. Making changes in a system that does not work, in a world that is content with the “lock them up and throw away the key” concept is exhausting. Those of us who are in pursuit of change need to be reminded of what we are fighting for so we can keep going. My reach is small, but if I can help one person I have been successful.
I am not saying that there is not a time for punishment. I have worked in Corrections for twenty-three years and see the world through a lens much different than those who have not worked in this setting. When people are incarcerated, they are stripped of their freedoms and they are confined to a building where their choices are made for them. For some, they will live the rest of their life in this manner and rightfully so. But for many who are in jails and prison, they made some really bad decisions, and they are going to be given multiple chances to get it right. What are we doing while they are with us to help them?
Many Communities view Corrections like it’s in a bubble. No one wants to know or care about what’s going on inside the walls with the men and women who are confined there or even with those who work there. But, we are not in a bubble, we are in your back yard. Officers are taking care of people who will one day come home and be your neighbor. So, I challenge the world outside these walls with--what kind of neighbor do you want?
A question was asked during the live chat: Do we feel, if shown at prisons and jails, this documentary would be beneficial? We all agree that it would. From an incarcerated person’s point of view it showed the men that when they start with themselves first, hold themselves accountable, then incarceration can be much different. Volunteers saw just how valuable their services are. From a staff perspective, it gives us a vision.
In Louisiana the phrase “Justice Reform” is thrown around a lot. But, what does that mean to the boots-on-the-ground Correctional Officer? Are we taking the time, right now, to educate them on what Louisiana is doing? We can change laws, we can rewrite policies, and we can retrain staff. But does staff really understand that for all of this to work they have to think, speak, and act differently as well?
We must recognize that incarcerated people are Human Beings, the same as us, no different. Staff must truly understand what those million dollar words mean; if we want to be successful in change we need the “buy-in” from our front-line officers as well. Do we have the right staff in place to see these missions and visions through? Are they open and accepting of those changes? If not, then who we employ needs to change as well. This documentary shows staff first hand that incarceration can be different.
Again, Thank you for this opportunity and I hope you are able to have it shown in many more correctional facilities throughout the country. Captain Jessica Davis, Warden Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office