Behind the iron gates of Baabda Women's Prison north of the Lebanese capital of Beirut, a play is being performed in one of its small rooms.
"Scheherazade in Baabda" is based on "One Thousand and One Nights" but with a twist: it features personal accounts by the inmates who share their experiences on a range of topics, from drugs to sexual abuse, forced marriage and domestic violence. Thirteen women participated using various genres, including monologues and song.
Director Zeina Daccache scripted the play in bid to rehabilitate the inmates.
"From observations alone one can tell the difference this project has made. Even the prison director told me that the inmates have more energy, they are not nagging as much. When you are in a prison, what do you think about? You think about the next court hearing, family, freedom, wanting to leave. However, after drama therapy, inmates started to discover things about themselves. The prisoner who used to say that everything was her fault is now reconsidering and saying maybe she can improve," she said.
During the performance, women told stories of sexual abuse at a young age and having to keep it a secret, about being forced to marry a man old enough to be her uncle and one spoke about adultery, which is a crime under Lebanese law.
"The women themselves wrote the script of this play using material from their past; true stories, their dreams, messages for society regarding women, prison and violence against women, which many of them have endured. The play is the outcome of 10 months of work with the women during therapy and the play is now being performed inside the prison," she said.
Daccache started working in drama therapy in prisons in 2009 with her first play, "12 Angry Lebanese" performed by male inmates in Roumieh.
"Scheherazade in Baabda", which runs until May 12, is open to members of the government, parliament and judiciary, staff of United Nations organization, diplomats and members of human rights and non-profit organizations, as well as and teachers in theatre, law, social studies and psychology. It is also open to families of inmates and the media, all of whom have to reserve seats to the show. The inmates perform three times a week.
Baabda Prison houses 80 inmates, many of whom are pending sentences, an issue also portrayed in the play. While the Lebanese judiciary system has been criticized by inmates and rights groups for being too slow in deciding on a sentence for a prisoner, the government recently agreed to decrease a year's sentence to 9 months, meaning some of the inmates could be released earlier under the new term.