Argentine play explores challenges of prison life for female and trans inmates

By Thomson Reuters Jun 19, 2024 | 6:09 AM

By Lucila Sigal

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – “The past haunts you and the future never arrives” six actors sing on stage in “The Days Out There”, an Argentine musical that explores the lives of female and transgender inmates during and after their time in jail.

The play, by 47-year-old writer and director Lola Arias, a winner of the prestigious International Ibsen Award, is heading to Europe at the end of June. It’s part of a wider project with companion film “Reas” that arose from a workshop Arias gave in a women’s prison.

It is acted by the female and transgender former inmates themselves, who look back at their time in jail and the challenges of adapting to life outside. They were jailed for crimes including fraud, robbery, drug trafficking and prostitution.

For Arias, prisons may not always be the best solution.

“Many times prison is simply a storage space for people who are excluded from society,” she said in an interview.

“That is part of what the film and the play tell in their ways because they question the need for prisons, why prisons exist and how we could imagine a different justice system.”

The director wanted to look at the bonds of solidarity built up in prison, moving away from traditional male-centered stories of violence in jail.

She said she also chose to focus on women and transgender inmates because of the unique “gender problems” they faced.

“Trans women who engage in sex work are detained without reason by police and are left in police stations for days. Trans men are also often treated with suspicion,” she said.

The protagonists tell their stories through song and dance, incorporating rock, cumbia and bachata music.

Ignacio Rodríguez, a trans man who was jailed for nine years, said the project had been life-changing, giving him a reason to build towards the future.

“That is what we want to share and transmit: empathy, fellowship, companionship, love, despite all that one may go through,” said Rodríguez, who formed a rock band and began studying law in prison.

Yoseli Arias, 28, who was in prison for over four years, said in an interview in the theater dressing-room, with her baby nearby, that she hoped the play would spur thought about what prison life was really like.

“It is a story told by ourselves, of our own life and experience and of what we would like the future to look like: just to be treated like ordinary people.”

“The Days Out There” will be showing at two dozen theaters around Europe starting in Avignon, France.

(Reporting by Lucila Sigal; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Rosalba O’Brien)