UNO presents Simonetta D’Italia Wiener’s ‘Unguarded’ Screening Event

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Eddie Okosi
Staff Writer

“I have seen first-hand how such a rehabilitative and not punitive approach is fundamental.” Photo courtesy of Goldstein Center for Human Rights.

An exciting and enriching screening event is happening this week.

Unguarded – No One Escapes from Love takes us inside the walls of APAC (Association for the Protection and Assistance of Convicts), showing the daily lives of the recuperandos (recovering incarcerated people) who live and work in this revolutionary Brazilian prison system centered on the full recovery and rehabilitation of the person. 

The documentary screening at UNO will be followed by an in-person discussion panel featuring Unguarded’s director, Simonetta D’Italia Wiener, and Jim Blum, Founder and Director of My Father’s House, a prison reentry community in Denver, CO.

The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required. Free parking in Lot E (in front of the CEC).

The event takes place on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022, from 6-8 P.M.

Dr. Martina Saltamacchia, an associate professor, historical expert and director of Medieval and Renaissance Studies here at UNO, put together the event through her enlightenment of the criminal justice system.

“When I first heard about APAC, (Association for the Protection and Assistance of Convicts) the revolutionary Brazilian prison system based on the full rehabilitation of the person,” says Saltamacchia. “I was amazed at the countercultural approach it adopts and at the concrete results it brings to the community.”

Saltamacchia has a personal interest in this issue, as she has been teaching at the Omaha Correctional Center since 2018 through the UNO TRAC Program. TRAC, the acronym meaning Transforming, Renewing, Achieving and Connecting, offers higher education classes in prisons. 

“I have seen first-hand how such a rehabilitative and not punitive approach is fundamental,” says Saltamacchia. “When this documentary on the APAC experience came out, I immediately tried to get hold of it.” 

Saltamacchia is adamant about making sure this documentary gets to be seen by as many people as possible and has taken the time to curate a unique movie-watching experience. With her work at TRAC, she contacted her colleagues within the program like Dustin Pendley to bring the idea together. TRAC also relates to the APAC program, as both strive to be capstone rehabilitation stepping stones.

“We believe that education is renewing, and with connection there is that human component to taking a class through group working, learning and having discussions,” says Pendley. 

The TRAC program Started in the fall of 2017 after donors with solid beliefs in higher education in prisons approached the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and the dean of public affairs. The aspiration was to fund a program that would help incarcerated people see themselves as scholars as opposed to just prisoners. 

One of the first classes taught through the program was English 1200 Autobiographical Reading and Writing. One of the students within that class graduated with a master’s in Criminal Justice and the other is working towards his MFA in creative nonfiction writing. There have been classes in real estate, politics, math, world history and black studies.  

“The students see themselves matriculating to UNO and finishing up their degrees,” says Pendley.

Just taking college classes has demonstrated quite a difference in the rate of recidivism. Recidivism, according to Pendley, is a revolving door in the prison system when those who are released re-offend again.

Under the TRAC program Pendley teaches a class titled ‘Inside Out’ where eight traditional UNO students go into the prison and have a class with incarcerated students. 

“What that does is humanize the incarcerated students and allows them to discuss important topics and share lived experiences,” says Pendley. “It creates an opportunity for the incarcerated prisoners to consider themselves as students that are learning, participating, and possessing valid points to make.”

Through Saltamacchia and the TRAC program, the screening of ‘Unguarded’ will also be held at the Nebraska Correctional Youth Facility. 

In regards to a captivating moment in the documentary, Saltamacchia attributes a scene of an inmate embarking on a new chapter in his life. Though he feels pushed back from others and within himself, he decides to immerse in the presence of things and eventually enjoys the process of turning a new leaf.

An inmate notorious for his routine escapes from Brazil’s mainstream prisons was sent to an APAC facility. Many were skeptical of this decision and expected the inmate to be gone the next day. (For there are, after all, no guards to prevent him from leaving.) But one of the APAC volunteers sensed an opportunity to trust the method and just as importantly, to trust the inmate. The following morning the inmate was still there. And the morning after that. And the morning after that. Finally, some APAC volunteers asked him why he, an inmate known for escaping, had not fled the APAC prison. His answer? “Nobody escapes from love.” His words now adorn the walls of every APAC prison.

As to the impact the exposure of this documentary will have on students, people and the facility, Saltamacchia says that this documentary shows a system that approaches incarceration in a drastically different way from the punitive model we are used to. Saltalamacchia says the word exhibited by APAC demonstrated in the documentary aims for the full rehabilitation of the person. 

“Interestingly, the results have been extraordinary: while the crime rate and recidivism rates have continued to increase in Brazil’s public prisons, within the APAC system they have steadily decreased,” says Saltalamacchia. 

“Unguarded shows this love for the human person in action and proposes it to viewers in America and elsewhere as a viable alternative to a system that currently fails victims, offenders, and society at large.”

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