Premiering at the 2015 Pan-African Film Festival
The feature documentary If I Give My Soul began the day co-director Andrew Johnson checked into a Brazilian prison, where he would spend two weeks living as an inmate, living as if he were incarcerated in an effort to see prison from an inmate’s perspective. During this process, Andrew was brought face-to-face with two powerful forces in the prisons: narco-trafficking gangs, and Pentecostal Christianity.
But although society tries hard to forget these incarcerated men, they are still husbands, brothers and sons. Many, who have decided to leave the gang lifestyle have found Pentecostal Christianity and decided to align themselves with God, leaving their gang. They form powerful friendships with each other and reach out to God with an urgency difficult to match outside of prison. Inmates form independent Pentecostal churches, claiming part of the prison as their own and prescribing rituals and regulations to follow – much like the gangs that these new converts have left. Upon release, these newly-Christian ex-gang members will have a choice to make: slip back into the lucrative, sexy, powerful gang life, or continue in their new life.
Although the film employs sociologists, politicians, the writings of Howard Thurman and music of Johnny Cash to contextualize the social world, five prisoners’ – Jorge-Luiz, Carlos, Messias, Marcio, and Cristiano – voices and experiences are front and center. Through these inmates’ stories, we explore their journeys from hardened criminal, through conversion in prison, then to their release back into society.
In stories that have not been told and in locations that have never been filmed, the documentary If I Give My Soul examines how five Brazilian prisoners have coped with both Brazil’s profound social and racial stigmatization as well as the brutal injustice of Rio’s justice system. These prisoners all become members of prisoner-led Pentecostal Christian congregations in their respective prisons, and through these inmates’ experiences, the film explores their journeys from hardened criminal, through conversion in prison, and to their release back into society. If I Give My Soul uses social science methods and first-hand experience to investigate if this religion is an escape and balm from the oppressive conditions of prisons, an elaborate show for the guards and justice system, or if their faith and experience represent something more.