In a quest to ease pressures on the Brazilian prison system, mental health workers have opted to give prison inmates the psychedelic brew ayahuasca, in the hopes of helping them to work through their deeply-rooted emotional traumas.
It is no secret that the current prison system lies in shambles. Overcrowded holding spaces, abusive staff, unsanitary living conditions — such environments rarely lead to redemption and rehabilitation, but instead almost always seed further violence, aggression, and feelings of alienation from society.
While some prisons are now offering holistic services such as yoga, meditation, and Reiki, prisoners’ rights advocacy group Acuda is taking it one step further, offering Brazilian prisoners a real shot at a new life through the use of the traditional Amazonian brew, ayahuasca.
Ayahuasca is a psychoactive brew that combines a specific Amazonian vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) with a leaf (Psychotria viridis), creating an extremely pungent, orally-active cocktail of DMT, a powerful psychedelic known to induce mystical and life-changing experiences for its user.
At first, Acuda had trouble finding a place where the inmates could drink the ayahuasca, but they were finally accepted by an offshoot of Santo Daime, a Brazilian religion founded in the 1930s that blends Catholicism, African traditions, and the trance communications with spirits popularized in the 19th century by a Frenchman known as Allan Kardec.
“Many people in Brazil believe that inmates must suffer, enduring hunger and depravity,” said Euza Beloti, a psychologist with Acuda, to the New York Times. “This thinking bolsters a system where prisoners return to society more violent than when they entered prison. [At Acuda] we simply see inmates as human beings with the capacity to change.”