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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 13 September 2014
SATURDAY 13 SEPTEMBER 2014 21 Stathis Grapsas Young prisoners play theatre behind bars of the Avlona Detention Centre. PHOTOS: MARO KOURI. A physical theatre approach was the key for working with inmates, says Stathis Grapsas. The theatre group of Avlona Detention Centre, after a successful rehearsal. towards anything in life. Their commitment and dedication to what we were doing fuelled me with more energy and I just kept going back." Working in the jungle that prison is, Stathis says it was the courage and strength of the inmates that inspired him to find a different approach and code of communication with them. "They were young guys from 15 to 20 years of age who were uneducated, uncultured, from difficult family backgrounds, with no support. The approach was different, I had to find a code of communication with them that they could understand - and that was the physical approach." After three years of working with prisoners, once the economic situation in the country made him decide it was time to leave, Stathis' biggest dilemma was how to leave 'the kids from Avlona'. "In retrospect, if I was paid for my work, I wouldn't have left. Your self esteem is being threatened by the system - you are trying so hard to be part of the system, to offer, to better it, and yet you are getting nowhere. "I decided to leave." Before his return to Australia, Stathis was approached by the Psychiatric Prison of Korydallos, and conducted a workshop that culminated in a presentation. "It turned a lot of things around for me in terms of how I feel about what I do. I am not a commercial actor, I've done that. We go beyond that at the end of the day." Now back in Melbourne, which he left close to 20 years ago, Stathis is keen to apply the techniques he learned from Avlona detainees in correction centres in Victoria. With the system more regimented and structured, the process is taking more time, but with authorities already giving positive feedback to Stathis' idea. Until then, passionate about contributing to community, Stathis is taking part in a project by Northland Youth Centre. Entitled Diversionary Program, the project is set up for children in difficult situations and in danger of imprisonment. The aim, of course, is to prevent this from happening and to engage children in something creative and positive. He is also active in the Street Soccer program, initiated by George Halkias of The Big Issue, where detainees take part in soccer games with teams from the other side of the prison bars. "Every Wednesday, before the tournament, we work with them to help them gain team spirit and some technical skills with the ball and amongst each other. This helps me find out more about the system from inside and understand the psychology of the detainees here in Australia better." On the same voluntarily basis, Stathis is involved in the workshops of YMCA in prisons, that offer some basic classes to prisoners, like obtaining the certificate CERT 2, as well as fitness workshops. "I see that prisoners want something more than just fitness exercise or a dry lesson. Some of my own suggestions had a positive response so far, even in such an experimental stage. "The good news is that there is interest amongst prisoners for something new as they are looking to fight the monotony and think 'different' in any way they can. "After all, my work is about changing peoples perceptions about themselves and others around them."
20 September 2014