The Alcatraz Project, when rum and rugby help to rehabilitate criminals

The Alcatraz Project is a programme that recruits former gang members, rehabilitates them and reintegrates them into society. It combines vocational training, values training, counselling, formal education and rugby. Through rugby, the values of respect, discipline, teamwork, sportsmanship and humility are taught as keys to success in life.

Projet Alcatraz Santa Teresa

Venezuela is a country where gangs wage war against each other and crime is rampant. In 2003 two gangs clashed in a turf war in the state of Aragua. Three gang members infiltrate the Hacienda Santa Teresa, take the security service hostage and steal their weapons. Although the worst was avoided – there were no casualties – Alberto Vollmer decided to take action to prevent the situation from escalating again.

He sent his head of security Jimin Pérez, a former policeman, to track down the criminals using his contacts. He quickly found the first offender, who was in fact a 14-year-old boy. Alberto asks his head of security to hand him over to the police.

He does so. But out of a sense of conscience, Alberto follows the policemen and realises that they are not heading for the city, but for the desert areas where summary executions are known to take place. The man informs Alberto, who asks him to do everything in his power to get the boy back.

Projet Alcatraz Santa Teresa

The values of rugby

He succeeded and took the boy back to the hacienda, where Alberto offered him a deal: he would be housed and fed at the hacienda for a few months, but would have to work to make up for his mistake.

The boy accepts and quickly takes his two friends with him. Soon it’s the gang as a whole, and then the rival gang, who want to take advantage of the same deal to get off the streets and out of this war. The two gangs are integrated into the Santa Teresa teams where they work at different levels (fields, wineries, bottling…).

The two gangs ended up meeting and rubbing shoulders through rugby. The sport’s strong values (team spirit, sportsmanship, humility, courage, etc.) enabled them to reintegrate. Today, the Alcatraz Project is a particularly extensive programme: out of 11 gangs, 200 criminals have been reintegrated into society.


Projet Alcatraz Santa Teresa

In addition, more than 900 prisoners are practising rugby and values in prison as part of the Alcatraz Project. After a phase of dialogue and meetings with the gangs or prisoners to convince them, the gang members are given school and vocational training, psychological counselling, an introduction to rugby and work on the hacienda.

They then become ambassadors for Santa Teresa and the project, and recruit other prisoners. They also talk to tourists who visit the hacienda. They tell their stories, their lives before and the transformation brought about by the project.

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