One time when we were working on the streets of São Paulo, we were invited to go into a youth prison unit. So we went and did some drama sketches and songs.
Cally asked the director of the unit what happened to the boys when they left the unit.
“They go back to the streets,” he replied.
That was when the seed was sown in our hearts for the prison ministry.
One of the street boys we knew and were praying for was then put into the youth prison. We started visiting him on a regular basis.
Every time we went, the staff would ask if we could visit some of the other boys who were from the streets and didn’t have any visitors. And so the list grew.
We realized we couldn’t do everything together. Cally carried on working on the streets and developed a street team. George went more to the youth prisons and visited the families. And that’s how the work in the youth prison began.
We worked in the youth prison for several years, taking the boys to rehab or taking them back to their families where possible. Then two years ago both of us really felt a sense that it wasn’t enough, and that’s when we started running psychotherapy drama workshops.
The way in which it works is that boys are put into scenes and improvisations of situations that they’ve been through or might go through. They then have to play the role of the people doing the robbery but also the role of the victim and the victim’s family.
Then you freeze the action and ask, “What are you thinking, what are you feeling right now?” They have to give voice to how a victim feels and it’s so powerful; it really is.
Often these boys have never thought about things from their victim’s point-of-view before. There are different projects but none doing exactly what we are doing. It makes the boys think in different ways.
When a boy goes to the psychotherapy drama sessions, he can see society as he has never seen it before. Normally the boys want to change, they want to be different. They don’t want to continue doing crimes or running from the police and they don’t want to have children who fall into the same pattern.
A few years ago, we helped a boy who was extremely intelligent; he was sixth out of the whole of São Paulo for the university entrance test and he did that in youth prison.
His dream was to go to university so George drove him about four hours to another town outside of São Paulo to do the entrance test, paying for the hotel and everything.
The next day we received a phone call from the hotel saying he’d stolen things; some time after he ended up going back to prison.
Then a few months ago, George got a text saying, “Hi Uncle George, do you remember me? Just want to say so sorry, I’m so sorry that I let you down. I wanted you to know that I’m doing really well. I’ve got a job, next year I’m getting married and I’m the youth leader in my church.”
It makes you go “goose-bumpy” because you thought it was a waste of time but it wasn’t. We always go back to Matthew 25: If you see someone who’s thirsty, give them a drink; if you see someone in prison, visit them.
We don’t do it because we think this one’s going to be a disciple and this one’s going to come through; you just do it because you believe that’s what God has asked you to do. And it’s amazing; God is so faithful.
Cally and George Magalhães work in the favelas and youth prisons of São Paulo, Brazil, as part of Tearfund’s Inspired Individuals program. A version of this article first appeared on the Tearfund website and is used with permission.