Youth worker Ruth with inmates at Otago Correctional Facility who have been using drama as a rehabilitation tool. Photo: supplied.
Acting on stage gives prisoners a risk-taking adrenaline kick, but without victims, the woman running a drama programme at the Otago Corrections Facility says.
Malcam Charitable Trust youth worker Ruth has helped support a drama group at the prison at Milburn, south of Dunedin, for the past four years.
She said a large number of offenders were natural risk-takers and the men who attended drama took a personal and public risk, especially when they performed.
"They still get the same adrenaline and highs but with this type of risk-taking there are no victims [and] nobody is getting hurt. I call it positive risk-taking."
She was "so super proud" of the men, especially as they were usually extremely nervous before performing.
"To be that scared and still get up and perform ... shows real strength of character."
Ms Ratcliffe said the "raw, genuine talent" was phenomenal and unspoilt.
Most recently, the students put on a three-play performance titled "Epic" based on the work of American playwrights David Dalton and Chad Schnakel.
The three plays were modified by offenders to incorporate their own stories.
Each of the eight actors wrote and performed their own monologue based on their character.
Ms Ratcliffe said the final product was an incredibly powerful and positive experience for the men involved.
"Drama like this puts both actors and audience in a challenging space. Everyone, actors and audience, are both confronted and engaged."
This was particularly challenging for the prisoners who could often see aspects of their own story in the monologues, she said.
The men learnt to work as a team, how to give and accept positive and "not so positive" feedback, respect, responsibility, resilience, confidence, self-esteem, empathy and acceptable social behaviours.
Ms Ratcliffe taught them drama skills such as warming up the body, mind and voice, deep-breathing exercises, character building, script writing and many others.
She said the prison and the Malcam Trust believed everyone could make changes and she was using drama as a vehicle to encourage this.
Assistant prison director Gill Brown said drama was a useful rehabilitative tool.
It demanded a lot of those involved and helped participants learn to express themselves and work with others.
"It helps teach collaboration and communication skills essential skills for living harmoniously in any community."
These skills help people reintegrate into their community, into their family and into employment.
In prison, it provided a positive risk-taking and bonding experience as well as a bit of fun away from the day-to-day prison life.
ODT Online 6 July 2017, 5 July 2017
Prisoners’ stage performance a ‘positive risk’
By Samuel White