AVSI-USA visits APAC
RESTORATIVE FREEDOM INITIATIVE BLOG
In June, a delegation of AVSI conducted a site visit at the APACs in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Jackie Aldrette, our Managing Director, Colin Murphy, Project Officer for Latin America, and Alberto “Desa” De Simoni, Program Manager of Restorative Freedom Initiative, traveled to Itauna accompanied by Denio Marx, Director of International Relations for APAC. Along came also Kathie Klarreich, Founder and Executive Director of ExchangeForChange, a nonprofit that offers writing classes in South Florida prisons. Back in February, Kathie helped us to bring Unguarded to South Florida, facilitated the documentary screening in two correctional institutions, and fell in love with the experience of APAC. We asked each traveler to share their impressions upon their return.
Having known about the APACs for many years, the experience of visiting one in person was beautiful and reassuring. The APAC method is not a fairy tale or a romanticized idea of what could be. It is a real labor of love that is changing lives and offers something for all of us. It was amazing to see what can be built on an experience of love. I was impressed at how the methodology of the APAC has been put together carefully over the past 50 years, and yet the staff and the volunteers don’t consider it something crystalized and set in stone but a truly living methodology: it is constantly put to the test with every new recuperando who comes through the doors, and the staff and volunteers have their eyes open to continuously discover both the depth of meaning in the methodology and how to live it more fully.
I came into the trip wrestling with the idea of forgiveness and mercy for people who have committed serious crimes.
I was hit hard by the phrase painted on one of the building’s walls: “Here enters the man. The crime remains outside.” Once inside the APAC, the recuperando [the word used instead of ‘inmate’] is not judged based on his crime. He is seen as a human being who, regardless of any of his good or bad actions, is deserving of dignity and love. After I mentally embraced this idea, I was able to see the beauty of the APAC and the possibilities that the methodology provides for everyone. I know that all of them have trauma, guilt, and self-doubt to work through, and using work as therapy seems to be a very effective way to do that. The APAC is a hub of activity, and each person takes pride in his work. That was refreshing since many people out in the “real” world don’t really care about the work that they do!
Even with so many opportunities for personal growth, I know it must be very difficult for recuperandos to truly recover. Seeing their faces and talking to them, I was reminded that each recuperando is on a very hard journey, and that the APAC staff and volunteers are there walking with them. It completely convinced me of the need for this place.
With images of Unguarded in mind, I landed in Brazil with a visual but realized that to absorb the experience I had to be present and discard any preconceived ideas. I was struck by several things: the differences between an APAC that was fit into a pre-existing site and one constructed specifically to house it. In the latter, there was the luxury to devote adequate space for programs and equip them with state-of-the-art material. Not something I would ever see in the States. Then, the diversity of vocational options, from manufacturing hosts to crocheted table-runners to auto mechanics: a thoughtful response to the diversity of interests in any random population but not something I could imagine any Department of Corrections in America would consider investing in.
Ultimately, it won’t be the visuals that stick with me but the individual stories because the best services in the world are nothing without the people who occupy them. And there is no shortage of men and women in Brazil’s prisons to do that. It’s heartwarming to know that at least in the APACs there is an overall sense of ‘life’ as opposed to just ‘living.’
I have been studying and working with the APAC methodology for almost a year. The week spent in Brazil illuminated some key points that are hard to grasp from a distance.
APAC applies the law; it doesn’t reinvent the wheel. The principles of human dignity, rehabilitation, and humanity are embedded in the Brazilian penal code (as they are in that of any civilized country), and APAC takes up the challenge of proving that it is possible to punish while respecting human dignity – of those punished and of those punishing –, to restrain while accompanying, to acknowledge the harm and rehabilitate.
At APAC, I experienced first-hand how many little details in our lives contribute to either affirming human dignity or dehumanizing a person. Those who committed harm don’t need to be cheaply forgiven or for their crimes to be forgotten. They need to be restored. And as I was walking the beautifully-cared-for grounds of the APAC in Sao Joao del Rey, I couldn’t help but think: isn’t it what we all need?
Lastly, on the APACs walls, I read: “Things are meaningful only when we know them.” Much of the APAC’s success and fascination is in their capacity to engage staff, volunteers, and recuperandos in a journey of knowledge, knowledge of oneself, of one’s crime, of one’s value, and of the goodness of reality. APAC is not a magic formula: it is painstaking work of daily accompaniment through the recovery of human.