Sharjah jail rehabilitates inmates using theatre

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SHARJAH: They are the last people you’d want to cheer for, but you may end up doing just that – clapping for convicts and even giving them a standing applause.

For the past few months, Sharjah jail inmates have been rehearsing for a one-of-its-kind theatrical production put together almost entirely by them.

Called Al Amal Theatre (Theatre of Hope), the production includes three stage shows lasting 10 minutes each. The plays are held within the prison walls in cooperation with the Sharjah Media Corporation but soon they would be held outside the correctional facility.

The initiative is part of Sharjah Punitive and Rehabilitation Establishments’ reformative and rehabilitation programme which uses theatre to change lives in prison.

“Around 30 inmates from different nationalities and age groups were given daily acting classes by leading UAE-based actor Bilal Abdullah who volunteered to help them prepare for the task ahead,” said Brigadier Ahmad Abdul Aziz Al Suhail, director-general of Sharjah Punitive and Rehabilitation Establishment.

The plays are performed for other inmates in a 30-seater hall equipped with props and modern lights.

Brigadier Al Suhail said they are planning to take the theatrical production to the public in the coming days. “We are contemplating to stage these plays during events like Martyr’s Day, National Day or the Anti Narcotics Day,” he said.

The play focus on a particular issue selected by the facility and leaves a message for the audience.

Excellent platform

“Each inmate has something good inside them, We look for that goodness and build on it,” Brigadier Al Suhail added.

He said the theatrical production is an excellent platform to instill positive traits like commitment, control, discipline and teamwork among inmates

“Working in a theatrical production also develops empathy in them. They learn to embody, articulate and understand the perspectives and experiences of others.

Many men are in prison because they have limited problem-solving skills. Their lives are in a mess and they have not been able to get out of it. Various studies show that engaging with art is essential to the human experience. Theatre too has many psychological benefits. We believe creative programmes like these would go a long way in transforming the lives of prisoners and reducing the risk of offence,” he explained

Brigadier Al Suhail said they have noticed a remarkable change in the behaviour of inmates who were part of the theatre or watched the plays as an audience.

Half way through the play, the prisoners are asked to identify unacceptable behaviour and reflect on it.

“The idea is to engage them in activities and help them overcome issues that landed them in prison. We want them to learn from their mistakes so that they refrain from getting involved in criminal activities when they are released,” he said.

The positive peer influence reminds offenders that they are part of a community that requires them to be responsible and accountable for their behaviour and acts,” he added

Theatre in jail is the brainchild of Captain Khalfan Salem Bin Shaqwa, director of the Educational and Rehabilitation branch.

“Being part of a creative programme like this will boost the self-esteem of inmates and make them a better person when they have served their time,” he said.

“We follow up on those who have been released and help them integrate in society by finding jobs,” he said.49c07265-4517-4f75-84e4-f832ae4610fe

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