It was in 2012. Bahamon was a famous actress, but that visit marked her so much that she decided to leave the television and turn to help the prison population of Colombia, a nation whose judicial system is very slow and the prison system is very punitive and little or nothing restorative. He started doing theater with inmates and ended up creating the Accion Interna foundation, which today has a dozen innovative projects that transcend life in prisons since they include the families of people deprived of liberty and those who have already finished their sentences.
In his book “stories deprived of liberty in early 2021, Bahamon tells of the lives of eight people he met in prison and explains how this vocation also became part of his personal life. In Colombia, in the month of the Virgen de las Mercedes, which is the virgin of the prisoners, the women’s prisons make a reign of beauty. In October 2012, I was invited to be a jury for the event because of my character in the fashionable television series at the time, “Three Miracles”, who visited prisons and was not prejudiced on the subject. I didn’t really pay much attention to the event, I was more interested in knowing everything about the people who were there and what a jail really is like inside.
What did you see or feel that impacted you to the point of deciding to dedicate your life to working with people who are in jail? The first thing I thought when I got out of jail was that you can be deprived of your freedom, but that does not mean that you should be deprived of your dignity. I felt that prison was simply a punishment space, but without a purpose of re-socialization, without giving the inmates opportunities and tools to change, to do other things, to reconsider and understand what they did. I thought that prisons are useless and that, as many people say, they are like universities of crime. For some people, feeling such empathy that leads them to take concrete actions can be natural, but it probably is not for everyone, even more so if it is to help people convicted of committing crimes. How can you explain your motivation to them?
Seeing it now, motivated me not to want to have so much individual recognition, to think only of myself, but to be able to do something for other people. I worked for 15 years acting on television and I did not feel that that was my passion; I didn’t have another either, but when I started going to jail, I found it. I discovered my passion. I was 30 years old. It is what I have dedicated myself to for the last 8 years and what I will surely dedicate myself to for the rest of my life. I appreciate and appreciate the recognition I had when I acted, but really the ones we have now are much more important because they are for a work team and an entire prison population.
We are destigmatizing it and showing its positive side. Today you have a foundation that has unique projects in the world, such as the restaurant in the San Diego women’s prison in Cartagena, the Internal Advertising Agency in the Modelo prison in Bogota, and also the new Casa Accion Interna, which has a tattoo studio. , a hairdresser and a clothing center, but it all started with a play. How was that? After being sworn into the reign, I had a three-month vacation while starting my next television project. I was going to go to New York for a drama course, but when I got out of jail I canceled it. I just wanted to be there, even though I wasn’t sure doing what.
As acting was my work tool, we started with a play. And I saw the 12 women who started completely transformed, they had another look, a sparkle in their eyes, an illusion, a hope, a motivation. They were different people than the ones I had met three months ago. At that moment I thought that theater was transforming and that I wanted to be in that transformation. After three months I told my manager that I was retiring for a year and a year later, that I was retiring from acting forever.90% of our prison population are people to whom we seek to give second chances, but who for the most part have not had the first chance; many have not even had an education.
The vast majority of people believe that prisons are full of rapists and murderers and it is not like that, that is a very small percentage. For the book, I chose eight very different stories, covering something from the entire prison population with which anyone, who is in prison or not, could identify. I, for example, have something that identifies me with each of them. One of the stories that the book tells is that of Claribel mother of a girl named Evelyn, of whom you now have temporary custody. Why did you think it important to share it? In prisons, many women arrive pregnpregnantecome pregnant on a conjugal visit.
They can be with their children until they are 3 years old and during that time there is a figure called a guardian, who is an external person to whom the mother can go when she needs to take the child to the emergency room at midnight, take him out for a medical appointment other things that she cannot do because she is deprived of her freedom. When they turn 3 years old, these children go with their guardian or a relative, and if there is neither of them, they are sent to the Family Welfare Institute. I started being a guardian with Evelyn since she was 3 months old and then Claribel, her mother, requested a transfer from prison and gave me temporary custody so that the girl could live with me while I was released from prison.
I was not going to make it public, I had it very much in my private life because Evelyn is my daughter, but I decided to tell it precisely to show people that you can help in many different ways. Another thing. For example, when they get out of jail and look for a job, everyone closes their doors. The first thing they ask for is the certificate of judicial past. So that’s where the opportunity comes for these people. As civil society, we also have the responsibility to give those second chances, to give them a job and not close the doors. Let’s talk about concepts. I have noticed that you use ‘deprived of liberty’ or ‘intern’ but never prisoner inmate Is there a way correct to and what is the explanation of your choice? I believe that the correct thing is as the legal basis says it, but I simply do not feel good saying Reclus, prisoner, or prisoner.
At the Foundation we prefer to say first that they are people – let no one forget that they are people! – who are deprived of liberty. We use “Postpenado” to differentiate those who have already left prison from those who are still inside. I have the feeling that t is a personal investment in this project. You are always in prisons, you have new ideas coming your way, how is a day, a week of yours, to make everything happen? The answer to that is that this is really my life. I know that one must have family apart from work. I have not done that well. My children spend Christmas in prisons; Claribel’s daughter lives with me and is my daughter. In other words, I have never set the limit between my family and work and I never want to. I don’t know if I’m doing good or bad, but so far it has worked, no one has been affected, and on the contrary, it has brought us very positive things.
I associate everything with the jail. I am 24 hours thinking about how to generate pleasant, productive, innovative things, for the interns to enjoy. Many times I get up at 3 in the morning. My most productive hours are from 3 to 6 in the morning, that’s when the ideas come to me. And then I have a very good team with which we are making everything that comes to mind come true. There are 15 permanent people and between 10 and 50 volunteers and people that we hire temporarily. Now, for example, we have a team of 25 legal volunteers nationwide who handle 128 cases.
It’s an impressive group that was formed in the wake of the pandemic when we started doing a lot of virtual things. In general, last year was very productive, one of the best years because we managed to reach all the inmates. Before the pandemic, we reached 33 prisons, now we are at 132 in Colombia. We apply that of turning mistakes into opportunities. And I also think that the quarantine generated a bit of empathy with people who are deprived of liberty because we already know what confinement really is and what can drive one crazy. We spent months complaining because we couldn’t get out of our four walls. And I say, yes, but those four walls of our house measure more than three meters by two meters square, which is what a cell measures.
And in those four walls, we are with our family and not with ten people who know each other, and we surely have our own bathroom and not a bathroom for a pavilion of 500 people You recently inaugurated the Casa Accion Interna, which is outside the prison, how important is it for people who leave prison to feel that there is a place to go? I think many people are afraid of getting out of jail because they don’t know what they are going to do or what they are going to find. Some people do not even know the system, thousands of things have happened while they have been there. For them, knowing that there is a space where someone is waiting for them, even if it is to give them a guide or simply receive them is very important.