2014 - Ongoing
Venezuelan General Penitentiary (PGV in spanish), in the central state of Guarico, was one of the biggest and most crowded prisons in the country. Built originally with the concept of farm prison to house around 750 inmates with dormitories and workshops, it was extraoficially filled with more than 5 times its capacity but some numbers have placed its population in more than 10.000 inmates at the point when the walls dividing a neighbouring prison were taken down by criminal groups inside. Authorities, as is common in Venezuelan jail system, completely lost the control inside the PGV and were the prisoners, with their own unwritten codes and their own arsenal of weapons, who controlled the prison and everything that happened inside the walls.
My long term project about causes and consequences of violence in Venezuela took me inside that prison in 2014, first as a general view of daily life in jail, after as an in-depth audiovisual research about a very rare example of an "autonumous" prison in hands of the prisoners, and then continuing with a very close and immersive following of the protagonists of these extreme reality, their families, their dreams of changing and the innitiatives that could help to improve the cycle of violence and bring back a face to many young men generally known only for being the ones that pull the trigger or the ones that recieve the bullets.
One innitiative, after months of dealing with official, unofficial, pseudo-official and para-official authorities, saw the light. A group of hip hop artists got together, and what was at the beggining only a rhymes improvisation circle became Free Convict, a Hip Hop collective and Foundation focused on reflecting on their context from the inside, expressing their reality through powerful lyrics and giving an option of life, at least a few minutes a day, to that people, as themselves, trapped in a what they called an endless labyrinth.
Free Convict, the hip hop collective, became a social experiment born in that surreal underworld where bosses bring inside drugs and weapons but also organize mother's day celebration and fund the sports teams. And something unique was happening in a Venezuela that resists to lose the hope. Their minds were changing and their actions too. And this is what this project is about, the capacities of the people to improve their context and, with support, empathy and understanding, being active players in the reconstruction of their own path.
A recording studio they smuggled inside the prison, became an oasis from where was possible to see the future from another perspective made of music, culture, education and peace. But from the doors out the prison was the same, the drugs were around, destroying minds and making debts and risks increase. The weapons, smuggled in by the military forces, were ready to defend the fortress from those very same military forces. The criminal code was rigurously ending with lives. Families were importing inside the prison the chaos that Venezuela is living all over, they brought in their desperation made of shortage, inflation, corruption and violence but also hugs and hope and the recomforting bridge to something that belongs to the outside normal world, but in Venezuela at this moment nothing is normal anymore.
After a 2 weeks battle with armed forces, the prison was taken back by the government and the Free Convict collective was torn apart, some members sent to one jail, some to another. But the dream survived, in pieces but alive. Today they are struggling but winning another battle, the one against a destiny that is supossed to sentence kids from underpriviledged areas to exclusion and failure and to feed the machine with blood and broken dreams.
In a society completely "gangrenated" by endemic violence, these cultural projects could represent the progressive way out to hundreds of young men and women that are today actively taking part in crime activities. Is important to understand that even if many particularities define each context, this situation is lived in many prisons around the world, and this project aims to be a useful and comprehensive body of work that could bring some deeper understanding about the dynamics inside prison life and how the youth live it and embrace it but also can change it and improve it, contributing through that to a collective step forward in a Venezuela, that like them, is not condemned to live trapped in a cycle of violence.