Interfest: Romanian’s national inter-penitentiary festival

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October 2018 – by Adrian Cristian Palea from the Jilava Penitentiary, Romania

The festival is a complex project with a tradition in Romanian penitentiary system. It is hosted every year by Jilava Penitentiary. This year we organised the fifth edition and the main purpose of the festival continued to be bringing prisoners together from all the penitentiary facilities in the country, and representatives of the local and central public administration, as well as institutions and NGOs whose main activities are related to social rehabilitation and also personalities from the cultural and artistic world.

From the start we were inspired by Friedensreich Hundertwasser saying ‘When we dream ourselves is just a dream, but when many dream together it is the beginning of a new reality’. We strongly believe that for the success of the social rehabilitation component of this event, it’s necessary to involve the civic society. This is why we’re convinced that the organisation of such an event is likely to strengthen the joint efforts made to increase the chances of social inclusion of the prisoners.

The main objectives of the festival are:

  1. promoting a positive image of the penitentiary system
  2. the social rehabilitation of detainees in a realistic and constructive manner
  3. facilitating personal development and social reintegration of prisoners
  4. optimizing the intervention of the representatives of the public institutions and NGOs
  5. increasing the chances for rehabilitation of prisoners

The fifth edition of the festival brought together 171 selected prisoners from 19 penitentiaries as well as social partners, representatives of the university environment and of public partner institutions and social reintegration specialists. The convicted participants were actively involved, they cooperated properly and experienced positive feelings about their activities, expressing their desire to be valued and rewarded and showing great interest and enthusiasm. Convicted persons have proven a mature approach to the subject, showing interest in their activities.

The first section of the festival was an exhibition of objects made by detainees through various methods: painting (on canvas, sand), origami, quilling etc. Wooden toys, accessories (necklaces, rings, earrings, handbags), wooden masks and other such items were appreciated by the visitors, so the detainees felt motivated to continue creating. They exposed their working methods, provided explanations on the stages for creating the objects in one workshop. It was a special experience for them as well as for the visitors.

The second section covered a demonstration dog training exercise organised in collaboration with the Utilitary Dogs Club. They were represented by one canine trainer and two volunteers, who presented activities that are being implemented in our unit, involving detainees.

Another section of the festival of great interest for detainees was the football competition that took place between 10 penitentiary facilities. This activity aimed to develop the competitive spirit among the detainees and to promote fair play.

A chess competition was held this year for the first time. It gathered 17 convicted persons imprisoned in 10 penitentiaries.

In order to stimulate the artistic skills, the convicted representatives of 3 penitentiaries went on stage and supported the folk music and dance performances in the “Performances” section.

In another section a seminar on “Professional good practice models in the field of social reintegration of persons deprived of liberty” took place. It aimed to identify good practices to prevent the difficulties that detainees are facing during the post-liberation period. State institutions and participating NGOs showed their readiness by provide the following services:

  • social and psychological counseling,
  • employment counseling
  • facilitation of access to medical services
  • assistance in issuing identity papers
  • accommodation in a night shelter
  • providing social services and benefits

Visitors and detainees showed a special interest in visiting Fort 13, an activity that aimed to raise awareness and enrich historical knowledge. During the visit, many historical facts were discussed, events that marked the history of Romania. Also, the outstanding people who suffered between the walls of the fortress were presented.

The event was attended by representatives of the Romanian Parliament, specialists of the penitentiary system, representatives of public institutions interested in the field (Probation Service, University of Bucharest), veterinarians, volunteers and students of the university centers with which the Jilava Penitentiary collaborates, as well as former detainees who showed interest in this activity, with a total of more than 150 visitors.

All the activities that were carried out, were positively received by the prisoners. The cultural, artistic and sporting events aim to develop a behaviour that’s based on generosity, stimulating creativity, teamwork, cooperation and tolerance, communication skills and interpersonal relationships.