Theater takes center stage in Colombian women’s prison

A group of handcuffed female inmates file onto a dark stage as prison guards carrying assault rifles watch nervously from the sparsely filled seats of Colombia’s National Theater. On the playbill is the Greek tragedy “Antigone.” The play is the marquee attraction in the second-annual Theater Festival for Prisoners. Johana Bahamon, a well-known actress and model, came up with the idea after she saw the harsh conditions while serving as a judge in a prison beauty contest. Most performances take place in the jails themselves, for family members and visitors.

The applause is therapeutic and empowers them as women.

Johana Bahamon, actress and model

Among those in the audience Tuesday was Martin Santos, the influential son of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. The entire audience, much of it made up of relatives of the actors, broke into a long applause as the curtain fell. Perhaps prompted by his presence, the actresses in Antigone removed their white robes, bared their breasts and shouted in unison against a litany of prison hardships: stomach-churning food, abuse by prison guards and inadequate medical care.

Because we’re behind bars, this helps us to feel free.

Lorena Ramirez, inmate