Roundtable at Punta De Rieles Prison,
‘SomoS lo que SomoS’ radio show,
organized by ´Matices Culturales’, a
cultural center run by the inmates of Unit No. 6 Punta de Rieles.
Federico González (FG): Good afternoon from Unit No. 6 Punta de Rieles. Welcome to Matices Culturales, welcome to…
Martín Amande (MA): SomoS lo que SomoS.
Adrián Baraldo (AB): If you listen to us and you enjoy the show, please share it, you’ll be helping to spread it.
FG: Wednesday, April 18, 2018. We are starting broadcast number…
MA: Good afternoon, Adrián, Fede, how are you?
AB: Here we are, starting the show. How are you, Martín?
MA: I’m fine, even if weather is a bit mixed-up, isn’t it? What’s the agenda for today?
AB: Another roundtable. Today we have guests: a group of architects that has been around here for a while, taking notes and speaking with people. Tell us, why are you in Punta de Rieles?
Prison to Prison (P2P): We’ve been working on a project since last year, and we intend to continue working on it for all this year. It’s called Prison to Prison and subtitled “an intimate story between two architectures”.
Our Project was selected through an open competition to represent our country at the International Architecture Exhibition of the Venice Biennale. This year the title of the Biennale is Freespace, a rather political subject. We wanted the Uruguay project, like those of other countries, to be related to politics and to offer contributions from an architectural perspective.
Last year we visited this prison for the first time. Both this prison model and the one being built next to it had a real impact on us.
After some research the neighboring prison turned out to be the biggest building built in Uruguay in 2017. This is a symbol we wouldn’t miss, not only as members of our society but also as architects: it’s a huge building!
Our project intends to compare these two architectural models that, ironically, coexist next to each other, and detect the different relation with space in each place and the ensuing possibilities and impossibilities, always from an architectural perspective.
So, we’d like you to tell us how do you live this model and what do you think of the next-door model.
AB: The comparison you propose is very interesting.
I’m surprised to hear that Unit No. 1 is the largest building built in Uruguay in 2017. It's neither a school nor a hospital. Besides, the characteristics of that prison… not a single green spot there. Only the roof is green.
It’s the same controlling ideology present in Discipline and Punish. It doesn’t intend to change that paradigm to that of watch and educate, our model, where we create spaces ourselves. For example, you came here to share this radio show, to talk with us.
MA: I'd like to know more about the other projects at the Biennale and why they have a political meaning too.
Our listeners already know what we think of the prison next door. We think it’s fine to problematize and visualize what’s being done, because society doesn’t question these things. The man in the street hasn’t realized yet that we are all paying for this prison: 127 million dollars and a 27-year outsourcing agreement. That’s a lot of money, of our money.
P2P: As for other countries' participations, the German project is called Unbuilding Walls(because of the Fall of the Berlin Wall), U. S. project is called Dimensions of Citizenship, Brazil project is Walls of Air…
MA: A lot of walls are being built these days. The other day we were talking about deaths in Syria and about the walls that are being erected there; they are sending a message. Here, by building this prison, the State is sending a message too. It’s OK to discuss it, despite media information or disinformation and the fear they generate in the community.
I think it’s important to discuss everything that happens. It’s important that both society and State promote a political debate.
P2P: There’s a great difference between these two universes for us too. We’ve been able to come here and talk to you, but we haven’t been allowed to visit the other prison.
MA: They’re two completely opposite models.
P2P: How would you describe to a stranger the way you take ownership of the space here?
MA: Here we are given the opportunity to do things. We can create spaces, we are able to create our own places. We try to organize collective undertakings dealing with education, co-operatives, art, music. We think activities in these fields make us feel well.
Both prisons are antagonistic. In this prison we have the possibility of studying at the University or working, we have a quiet place to receive our visits. Conditions in this prison are different.
Experts from all over the world have said it. Good things can be done in prisons with a lower number of inmates. Changes may be made. Here, there are green spots, there’s the opportunity to socialize with other people. We’re allowed to build our own life or to deconstruct our previous life. We can speak from a different perspective.
We've realized that if we don’t speak about politics we won’t be able to change perspectives. For instance: yesterday we gave a talk at Barrack 10 (that houses new inmates) to tell them about our experience, what was the origin of this space three years ago (with reference to Matices Culturales), what needs we intend to satisfy, what we have achieved and how do we feel about it.
About the prison next door we know the same as you do. There’s a lot of disinformation. They don’t want anybody to know what it’s about. Fellow prisoners are dying and nobody cares.
AB: It was inaugurated on January 27 but it hasn’t been officially commissioned yet. The construction company is still there, so, strictly speaking, works aren’t finished. But they inaugurated it all the same. They put people inside it so they could start charging.
It’s a meat mincing machine. It’s so obvious: capitalism exploiting people’s bodies more and more. The same public-private partnership system is in place in the U. S., and what happens is that they are out there picking up people, because inmates are the raw material of the system. Without inmates, the system isn’t profitable.
This may happen in Uruguay, I mean, that all services are privatized. There was an attempt to privatize healthcare services, but they couldn’t, thanks to the resistance of large sectors. So now they're trying with security. Capitalism is reproducing itself and taking advantage of critical sectors.
Prisons exist to protect private property, why such a large investment in prisons and not in education?
We visited Barrack 10 yesterday, and we told the people there about our activities. We talked about our ideology and what we can fight for. Because not by chance 8 out of 10 people confined here come from the same underprivileged sectors. It’s not a coincidence, it’s causality. How can we stop this? We should raise our consciousness and fight against it, resist, manage to leave this place with tools to live in society.
P2P: Has Matices Culturales found a common space to reflect on all these issues?
AB: Sure. Reflection comes while walking. We intend to transmit our reflections. It’s not only about making music for fun. Having fun is OK, forgetting your routine, clearing up your mind. And making music is fine because music gives you a lot of opportunities to build new relationships. It’s a political position to change practices and ways of thinking.
P2P: You said “it comes while walking” in spatial terms. When somebody wants to start an enterprise, how is collective bargaining developed?
MA: In this peculiar prison, you just go and talk to the Warden (Luis Parodi) or with labor area people. We, the promoters of all this are always in contact, either in the radio, in the vegetable gardens, in the study room, in the magazine we publish, at the Co-operative (Cooperativa de Vivienda Resiliencia) seat…
The first meetings of the Co-operative were held at a fellow’s enterprise. Then we got a room, we fixed it, we put a door, and we equipped it, always keeping in mind our commitment to the project.
The Co-operative has been in place for one year now. And we’re about to obtain legal personality. Then we’ll go on until the final stage: building our houses.
I think these collective undertakings strengthen us both as a group and as individuals. Nowadays society does not pursue collective goals but more and more individual goals.
By creating these things within the prison we want to raise awareness of the fact that we lack a lot of things. During the process we realize what we lack.
To think about these things make us think about why no high-schools are built in the outskirts, for example. No high-schools are built, but police stations are. And we realize this place is not so different from the outside.
Here, we’re doing things thinking of the outside; we can do that. These spaces help us to make reintegration into society easier. I’m building my house, I’m studying, I’m doing something with my life.
These are some of the things we learn from collective undertakings. We all have the same problems, we all share this reality, maybe our previous living conditions were the same too. We can tell our story and try to explain it, so that no more prisons like the one next door need to be built. We're giving something to society. To go back, to go out to the street, to go back to society.
We met with the Technical Deputy Warden of the prison next door to discuss what could be done to reproduce these spaces in the other prison. Anyway, conditions are not the same.
If 500 inmates share green, open areas within the precincts of the prison, if they have the opportunity to study, this would probably result in more people studying, working or remaking their life once released. But those 2000 people confined behind an electronic door, surrounded by loudspeakers, listening to a bell all-day long, will probably forget they are persons.
AB: The mutilation of the self, the walls, the uniform, the loss of identity, being a number, the electronic door, fixed hours to eat, fixed hours to go out to the yard: these are all indoctrination devices.
In the outside world those won't be the conditions; these people will find another reality. So, do they succeed in making better persons? In giving them tools to experience and try new things, to open their mind and think freely?
The Technical Deputy Warden of the prison next door asked us to go there to help with cultural activities, and our answer was yes. Even if on the side of the wall, people there are our fellow inmates. We share the feeling of being confined, the same anguish, the same helplessness, the same anxiety, even if contexts are different. Those feelings may be somehow tempered here because we have some entertainments, but when we go to bed at night what we would like is to be with our families.
For this reason, our collective undertakings focus mainly on considering what our peers are living through. I take responsibility for my mistakes, but, who takes responsibility for my background's mistakes that led to my mistakes? In my case, in Martín’s case, in Federico’s case, in the case of the other 10 thousand (approximate number of incarcerated people in Uruguay), who takes responsibility for all those Human Rights? Right to adequate housing, to education, to health… all the rights we were deprived of.
MA: The State does not take responsibility, the State gets rid of all responsibilities, the State prefers the public-private partnership. We realized a lot of rights are being violated… It can’t be!
It seems that we’re the only ones talking in this interview! …
P2P: We’d like to tell you some things we’ve been thinking on these issues and we'd like to know your opinion, as we are outside observers.
On the one hand we saw a relationship between an architecture prone to consider life at an abstract level–what Adrián referred to when talking about standardization, fixed times to eat and sleep, the same clothes for everybody– and Power. An architecture at the service of Power, a relationship between the capital P Politics, the old one, the usual one, exercised always by the same people. On the other hand, we saw another architecture that favors encounters, thus contributing to establish a different relationship with the power thanks to other, maybe new, emerging politics, what makes us recognize certain empowerments.
After hearing what you’ve said we find some hope in those spaces where architecture may foster certain things, not alone, of course…
MA: I think what you’re saying is more than clear here, because the history of this prison is political. This very spot where we are now was one of the toilets of the women’s prison during the military-dictatorship (1973-1985). At present this is a place full of color, there are lots of letters and ideas written on the walls, and we are aware of that too. We are aware of what this place meant, of what it was done here, and this makes us feel persons, feel a part of something.
I believe next-door prison is quite the opposite. It’s about what you were saying on abstraction. Making someone feel alone, confined, with no bonds, so that he doesn’t feel like a person any more. Do they really want to re-socialize those persons or do they want to turn them into something worse?
I think anyone having been away from his family knows what I'm talking about. How could you assimilate if you have no contact with anybody or if you’re only in contact with people that lack the same things as you do?
There are lots of things we need at Unit No. 6, we disagree with a lot of things, and we fight to change them, but we have the opportunity to say it, to tell it.
AB: There’s no censorship here, we say what we want. No insults, no disrespect.
P2P: You’re somehow the voices of the prison, aren't you? There’s a difference between the voice that gives orders in the prison next door and your voices discussing in a radio show.
MA: We often take the radio’s loudspeakers outside so that everyone can listen to the radio shows or the music we play. Different opportunities arise from relationships, interactions, sharing or even discussions. This is part of asking ourselves why we are here.
AB: Going back to your project, what’s the current stage?
P2P: There are several stages and aspects. On the one hand, we are going to Venice to prepare the exhibition. The exhibition will try to convey, through a sensory experience, all we’ve learned here, in these two prisons.
There’s a catalogue on the exhibition, and we invited many people to write on this issue. Not all of them are architects, there’re also artists, journalists, psychologists, anthropologists… Not all of them are Uruguayan. We’ve tried to internationalize our reflection. There’s a poster within the catalogue that contains a graphical research on the architecture of both prisons.
We're also building a website where we'll publish different material during the Biennale.
And when we come back from Venice we’ll go on working through a University extension program housed by the School of Architecture, Design and Urbanism aimed at building together a participatory urban project for this prison. We invite everyone living here to take part of it.
AB: When are you leaving for Venice?
P2P: In May. The exhibition will run until November.
AB: And will you have everything ready in time?
P2P: As always in Uruguay, we have few resources and little time, but we’re working hard.
MA: It seems we’ve run out of time…
AB: We talked too much, but there was some exchange, wasn't it? Our goal is to focus on other realities to be able to build our anti-fate.The prevailing ideology says we’ll end here, in prison, but in this particular prison we can get a University degree, learn a trade, become musicians… we may build another reality.
MA: So, goodbye then...
FG: From Unit No. 6 Punta de Rieles, Matices Culturales, with the show…
MA: SomoS lo que SomoS.
AB: If you listen to us and you enjoy the show, please share it, you’ll be helping to spread it.
FG: You can listen to us on radiopedal.uy, La Cotorra FM, sinretorno.com, radioutopia.com.ar,Espika FM or El Cuarto Ombú FM.
P2P: Thank you very much. We’re really happy of having had this conversation with you.
AB: Thank you for coming.