Pro Bono

Re-directing troubled lives through theater

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The best pro bono work frees recipients from all legal drama and costs. DR & AJU proudly supports the non-profit Happitory.com and its effort to give juvenile offenders an experience intended to reduce the likelihood that they will see a courtroom or a detention facility again.


Happitory’s co-founders are DR & AJU partner Kwon Yongsuk and his wife director Noh Jihyang from the theater company Hae. Mr. Kwon became interested in rehabilitating juvenile offenders during his time as a prosecutor. Ms. Noh has been instructing them in the theater arts to that effect since 2000.


Drama therapy brings the incarcerated together in a discussion group to write and perform plays based on their personal experiences. The amateur performers draw on their feelings and improvise lines as they go. “Revealing their stories helps them to understand themselves and others,” explains Ms. Noh.


Happitory is “a healing center for those suffering from excessive stress,” according to the founders. Built in 2013 largely around solitary cells meant to inspire self-reflection, drama therapy holds a coveted spot in the sprawling rural Ganwondo compound. Stage lights adorn its orientation hall. “We bring about seven to eight kids together with their parents,” explains Ms. Noh. The soon-to-be-released detainees sleep together with their guard. The parents stay in individual cells. All come together to transform their past dramas into unique plays. “Heated arguments are common,” Ms Noh adds, but anything that might facilitate understanding among the family members is welcome.   


The Crime Prevention Policy Bureau of the Ministry of Justice sponsors around six such retreats to Happitory a year, selecting attendees from juvenile centers across Korea. No statistics are available to compare the recidivism rates of drama therapy participants to Korea’s average for juvenile offenders. More than one participant has revived their role on the Happitory stage, but Ms. Noh remains optimistic: “These are kids with very complex problems. Raising their self-confidence and helping relations with their parents is the main goal.” She appreciates any sign of progress, “One of the kids who came back to us said that he used to steal all the time and feel nothing. After performing here several months passed before he stole again, and when he did, for the first time, he felt it was wrong.”


Happitory charges guests via a Pay What You Want (PWYW) system, but the concept is more of a “pay it forward” system: leaving fees to cover the cost of the next guest’s stay. They are expecting to be able to cover operation costs from program revenue next year. However donations are always welcome.