Correctional facilities (prisons, forensic units, and juvenile detention centers) offer long-term opportunities for work with clients, but within systems that more often are focused on punishment than therapeutic intervention. Therapists of all kinds express frustration at their attempts to create behavioral change in institutions of this kind. However, drama therapists love the challenge of working with these clients.
Brandon Brawner, RDT, worked for many years in San Francisco prisons using video techniques. Inmates created characters and stories that express their concerns about their personal struggles or group issues and enact their concerns about their personal struggles on video. Some are highly fictional: in one screenplay based on the television show Star Trek, a group of prisoners are transported to the USS Enterprise to get help with anger management skills from Captain Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the crew. Other films are psychodramatic: a prisoner acts out what his journey home might be like after his release and faces the temptations of “old friends” who want to entice him back into a life of crime. One of his short videos made with prisoners can be seen on the video short gallery on the NADTA website. Brandon also worked with ex-convicts, helping them explore their struggles to “go straight” once they are released.
There is a drama therapy program currently being run by Barbara Wiebe, RDT, at the North Texas State Hospital forensic unit for clients who have committed crimes but have been found not competent to stand trial because of mental illness. These clients are manifestly dangerous to themselves and others. Drama groups at NTSH can meet often as three times per week, developing basic social interaction skills and self-expression through movement and simple drama games. They use role play, masks, performance, and very simplified Playback Theatre to work on therapeutic issues relating to anger management, substance abuse, and coping mechanisms.
In Lebanon, Zeina Daccache, RDT has worked with men in Roumieh Prison (pictured at the top of this page) and with women in a women’s prison. 12 Angry Lebanese, the Documentary is a moving film of her work in Roumieh as she worked on a production of 12 Angry Men. The documentary has played in commercial houses and won a number of awards at international film festivals.
© Copyright Sally D. Bailey, Registered Drama Therapist. All Rights Reserved.