Special article of the week- An afternoon at Fundação Casa
Special article of the week- An afternoon at Fundação Casa

  • Vinícius Mendes

Obstacles, such as walls, fences and gates, separate the adolescents who occupy the Casa Governador Mário Covas socio-educational care center at Fundação Casa, in Vila Maria, north of São Paulo, from the traffic on the local Marginal Tietê lane. To enter the building, visitors need to sign a notebook, leave cell phones on the counter and let go of preconceived ideas outside. In this environment, there are 64 young people (maximum capacity of the house) between 15 and 18 years old who are experiencing for the first time the experience of being confined in a socio-educational institution. Any of them can be the protagonists of the controversial debate underway in the country: the reduction of the penal age from 18 to 16 years in some cases. The Chamber of Deputies approved the Proposal for a Constitutional Amendment, which provides for a reduction in the age of majority in cases of heinous crimes – such as rape and robbery – and for intentional homicide and bodily harm followed by death. If the measure is approved by the Senate, 16- and 17-year-old offenders will serve time in a separate establishment from those over 18.

Inaugurated in November 2014, the Casa Governador Mário Covas keeps the walls painted in light green and the finishes, such as door frames and windows, in shades of the same color, only darker. It has eight dormitories, each with four bunk beds, and several rooms where the boys have classes in basic education, drawing, computing, confectionery, baking. The building still houses a multi-sport court, but they really prefer to play football.

All, without exception, have their hair cut military style for “hygienic reasons” and wear a navy blue uniform with an identification number – towels, sheets, soap dishes, everything has a number. Edson Luis de Oliveira, director of the service center, explains that this method, similar to that used among adult prisoners, has only an administrative function at Fundação Casa. “They are not called by their numbers. We use this practice only to better organize our activities.”

“Look how crazy, sir. The guys made more Fundação Casa units than schools. Isn't that a contradiction, sir?” asks John. Before he could continue, Mateus says: “There is no school or health center in my neighborhood, sir”.

Through the corridors, Oliveira talks to one and the other, always calling by name – in this report, the identity of the inmates will be kept confidential. “Your bed is not so well made, huh, João?”, says the director. With a slight smile, he continues, "Okay, at least it's all folded." He then explains: “Before, they made everything messy. Until the day those in room five made the beds without anyone giving an order. Now it's a competition to see who can stretch the sheet the most”.

The environment, although contained, has space for this type of conversation between management and staff. In one of the corridors, a table attracts attention because it tells who is who in the center. In it are written “the references” of each boy – the professionals of the psychosocial team.

The cafeteria serves for meals and also works in improvisation. On the day of the visit, while one of the employees was putting a movie on the TV, another left three boxes full of books on a table. Some boys were interested in the books, but most preferred to watch the movie. One of the boxes contains only a Bible, a gift from the two evangelical organizations – Universal Church of the Kingdom of God and Congregação Cristã do Brasil – that hold weekly services at the foundation. The frequency of boys in these meetings is irregular. “Some days it gets crowded. But there are days when four, five boys go,” says Oliveira.

The Governador Mário Covas House was the 71st opened since 2006, when the name of the institution changed from the State Foundation for the Welfare of Minors (FEBEM) to Fundação Centro de Atendimento Socioeducativo ao Adolescente (Casa). More than rebaptism, the idea was to improve the State's assistance to adolescents in conflict with the law. One of the reformulations was the decentralization of the entity, carried out through the construction of units within the State, which reduced the number of rebellions, which eroded the image of the former FEBEM.

According to the latest report by Fundação Casa, last August, there were 10.035 young people at the institution throughout the state of São Paulo. Of these, 7.328 (73,2%) were between 15 and 17 years old and 42,9% were deprived of their liberty for aggravated robbery. Data from 2013 from the National Secretariat for the Promotion of the Rights of Children and Adolescents (SINASE) show that the country had 23.066 children under the age of 18 fulfilling socio-educational measures. When making the comparison, an alarming result is reached: the State of São Paulo has 43% of all adolescents in conflict with the law.

what do they tell
João and Mateus, both 16 years old, accompanied our visit, amid their memories, routines and rules. During the meeting, it is noticed that there are quite peculiar rules there, such as asking for “excuse me” every time they meet anyone, always walking with their hands behind their backs, swearing a lot and invariably ending sentences with “sir”. They say they had their first contact with books at Fundação Casa. João has just finished reading One Hundred Years of Solitude, by the Colombian Gabriel García Márquez, but he admits that he liked the story of A Hora da Estrela, by the Brazilian Clarice Lispector better. Matthew also talks about his favorite reading. It was a small, beat-up book called The Last Stone, by Rogério Formigoni, bishop of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. “Have you read this one, sir?” Upon receiving the denial, he says that the book is about a young crack addict who manages to get back on his feet.

But the boys also read newspapers and magazines. That's why they know how to argue about what interests them a lot: the debate around lowering the penal age from 18 to 16 years for heinous crimes. John seems more familiar with the matter, while Matthew follows his colleague's words to formulate his opinion. “Look how crazy, sir. The guys made more Fundação Casa units than schools. Isn't that a contradiction, sir?” asks John. Before he could continue, Mateus says: “There is no school or health center in my neighborhood, sir”.

No one goes through a period of deprivation of liberty unscathed. “I hate this place,” says John. “But I would be ungrateful if I didn't say that this changed my life, sir. I had never read a book in the 'world', sir. Then I came here and met all these guys. Now I'm reading a book that tells the story of the world, of hominids, of homo erectus, of men who came down from the trees and started to walk on two legs. It's crazy, isn't it, sir? I would never read a book out there, sir. So I have to admit that this one changed my life. I’m going to get out of here and never take a shit again.”

João has been at Fundação Casa for a year, since September of last year. He became an intern after assaulting a woman on a street in Jardim Brasil, a neighborhood in the extreme north of São Paulo, where his family lives. In the action, João used a kitchen knife. He says he was caught by police, placing the tip of the sharp object in the victim's abdomen. At the time, he thought about trying to run away, but he was strongly held back by the policeman. “I got my ass in my hand. I've never been in a van, sir. I stayed there until my mother arrived. She was on her way to work and saw the cops on the street. I think she realized it was me. She gave me a comfort when she got in the car, which you can't even imagine. She was crying, but she went to the police station, brought me a snack, followed everything.”

I had never read a book in the 'world', sir. Then I came here and met all these guys. Now I'm reading a book that tells the story of the world, of hominids, of homo erectus, of men who came down from the trees and started to walk on two legs. It's crazy, isn't it, sir?

Before admission, João used drugs, basically cocaine. He got into it when he was 11, 12 years old. He had already committed other robberies to support his addiction. His older brother, who managed a drug sales point, is also deprived of his liberty in a penitentiary in the interior of the state. The other two had no better experiences: one is being held for drug trafficking and the other, who recently got out of jail, has returned to the streets. João doesn't know anything about his mother's job, but he is sure that she is "not earning well". Director Edson Luis de Oliveira says that João “is not a criminal”. His problem would be addiction. “When you got here, it was over. Today is another boy.”

For now, João has seemingly prosaic dreams for when he regains his freedom, probably in the next few days. “I'm going to take this marginal there, go to Shopping D, buy a BK Picanha, a bag of French fries, a Chokito milk shake and watch whatever movie is playing at the cinema”, he says, staring at the barbed wire at the top of the walls. of building.

Matthew is quieter. As John talks, he prefers to laugh at the spontaneity of the only friend he has made there. The two are always together. Mateus has also been hospitalized since September last year, but arrived at Vila Maria in December, after staying at the Brás care center, in the central region of the city. He says he was never addicted to drugs and stole to pay for material desires his parents couldn't give him.

“I didn't come from a rich or poor family, but I was well off, sir. Since I was little my mother left home, I was raised by my grandfather. I stayed there until I was 11 years old. He tried to molest me, me and my aunt, sir. I told my mother, but she didn't believe it.” Mateus says that his mother only began to notice the problem when he and his aunt went to visit her. “My aunt cried and my mother saw that I was telling the truth.” That same day, the three went to the police station to report their grandfather. From then on, Mateus takes medicine to control the trauma. “It's hard to forget, sir. Sometimes I have an empty head and come.”

The grandfather ended up in prison, Mateus went to live with his mother, in Jardim Ângela, in the south of São Paulo. One day, he was caught with a marijuana cigarette by a neighbor, who told his mother, who, in turn, decided to share the matter with Mateus' father. “He called me and said he was going to kill me. My father didn't beat me, but my uncle did.” João interrupts, euphoric: “Look there”, points towards the upper part of Mateus' right ear, which has a scar, apparently the result of a deep cut.

Afraid of his father's reaction, Mateus ran away from home on the same day as the phone call. “I stayed on the street. I went to live with some friends and started dealing, sir. My parents even looked for me, told me to come home, but I said I didn't want to because they were trying to attack me.” A month later, he decided to steal and was caught. He has no plans to leave the unit, despite the constant praise he receives from the coordinators, who consider him “observer” and “intelligent”.
At the end of the meeting, we retrieved our belongings at the reception of the unit. The gates close, there is the loud sound of the iron bolt. Outside, on the banks of Marginal Tietê, the question remains: adolescents in conflict with the law or society in conflict with adolescents?

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