In a Greek jail, inmates find freedom in theatre

  • World
  • Monday, 17 Jun 2024

FILE PHOTO: Korydallos Prison inmates perform in the ancient Greek tragedy "Antigone" for their fellow inmates, at the prison's yard in Korydallos, Greece, June 11, 2024. REUTERS/Stelios Misinas/File photo

KORYDALLOS PRISON, Greece (Reuters) - On a stifling summer evening, the actors took to the stage: a grassy courtyard enclosed by towering prison walls, topped with barbed wire and lit by a floodlight.

The performers were inmates at Greece's maximum-security jail, and so was the audience. The play - ancient Greek tragedy 'Antigone', a story about free will, disobedience and authority - spoke to their hearts. For a short hour, they felt free.

Dressed in cream-coloured costumes, the men, aged between 24 and 63, had been practicing for this moment for months.

"Tomorrow is not a dead-end," they shouted in chorus as they took a bow, hand in hand, in the final act.

For two dozen inmates, the theatre workshop at Korydallos prison, a sprawling complex in an impoverished part of Athens, had been a respite from the mundane and often gruelling routine of daily prison life and their crammed, rowdy cells.

"You forget you're in prison," said 37-year-old Konstantinos Bougiotis, who played King Creon, the antagonist.

"You stop being in this misery, looking only at bars and walls," he said.

Every rehearsal was a taste of freedom, said another inmate, 54-year-old Dimitris Kavalos, who never imagined he could stand before his fellow inmates and read lines.

"I felt freedom in my soul," Kavalos said.

Around 250 inmates have taken part in the prison's workshop since it launched in 2016, and more than 1,800 have watched the shows. One man came back to take part in the performance despite being recently released so as not to disappoint the other inmates.

For this year's play, director Aikaterini Papageorgiou said she was looking for something a person in confinement could identify with.

In Antigone, the most political of plays written by Greek tragedian Sophocles around 441 BC, the titular character disobeys her uncle, King Creon, to bury her brother, while grappling with life's written and unwritten rules.

Even the more sceptical among the inmates were forced to tackle life's big philosophical questions.

"In real life too, we put on a show," Bougiotis said. "Life is theatre too."

Papageorgiou said directing the group through the toughest period of their life was a huge source of hope.

"For those of us who are not in this world, to see this fervour that their minds cannot be imprisoned even though their bodies are is very inspiring," she said.

"It's very hopeful for humankind, for its strength... and for redemption."

(Writing by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Peter Graff)

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