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"Johar... Up in the air": A new theatre play in Roumieh Prison by Zeina Daccache

BEIRUT | - April 14, 2016, 11h46

Johar…Up in the air”, the new play presented by inmates from Roumieh Prison, will be performed in May, inside the penitentiary. Directed by Zeina Daccache, this play is being prepared since June 2015. 

Zeina Daccache is a registered Drama Therapist with the North American Drama Therapy Association (NADTA) in the USA. She's the founder and Executive Director of Catharsis - Lebanese Center for Drama TherapyIn 2009, she launched the first project of dramatherapy in a Lebanese prison. It gave birth to the play 12 Angry Lebanese, that the inmates performed on stage, inside Roumieh prison, the biggest prison in Lebanon. Zeina then launched another dramatherapy initiative, this time in Baabda prison, where the women inmates presented the play Scheherazade in Baabda. Both projects gave birth to internationnaly acclaimed  documentaries, that drew the attention of both official authorities and the civil society to the necessity of implementing some laws. 

The project of the play "Johar... Up in the air" is conducted in the framework of "The Untold Story of Forgotten Behind Bars", a project implemented by Catharsis, funded by the European Union and in collaboration with the Ministry of Interior & Municipalities and the Ministry of Justice. The project's objective revolves around the improvement of Mental Health in Lebanese prisons and a suitable legislation for mentally ill inmates and inmates sentenced to life.

The project includes four main outputs:

- A study investigating the prevalence of severe mental illness among an inmate population in Lebanon (study published in 2015 where findings were consistent with previous research indicating a higher prevalence rate for  mental illness  in prisons compared to the  general population, for more info please visit,

- The production of the theatre play “Johar…Up in the air” interpreted by inmates from Roumieh Prison (some of them suffering from mental illness),  

- A legal research including a comparative law study, 

- And ultimately, a draft law based  on the findings of both previous outputs.

Johar…Up in the air” sheds the light on inmates suffering from a mental illness and inmates sentenced to life. Both statuses have a common fate: staying in prison forever and ever. Indeed, the Lebanese penal code states that “insane” prisoners should be incarcerated in a special psychiatry unit until the appointed tribunal decides to end such incarceration upon evidence of “cured from insanity”. However, no accurate definition is provided as to what insanity entails and mental illness is usually managed not "cured". And how is it possible in the 21st century, to use the word "insane"?

From these inmates’ stories (some suffer from mental illnesses and others are sentenced to life), the new play has emerged. The inmates will tell the stories of the forgotten, through monologues and short scenes. As one of the inmates says in one scene: “my mental illness and the prison are a double punishment”.

Hopefully, this new project will lead to a policy change just like Catharsis previous production 12 Angry Lebanese did, with the early release law 463/2002 (the law of the reduction of sentences that was issued in 2002 but never implemented and that the inmates claimed for loudly in 12 Angry Lebanese, and in 2009 it started being implemented)

Five performances will be held throughout May 2016 (May 11, 12, 18, 19 & 25, 2016), under the High Patronage of Minister of Interior and Municipalities Nohad Machnouk inside Roumieh prison, where a venue has been specially built for the event. Through the play, the inmates will have a new platform for expression, in light of the multiple developments within the Lebanese prisons. The inmates will use this opportunity to set a bridge that will make their voices heard by the Lebanese civil society in a constructive and artistic way.

#Catharsis, #Dramatherapy
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