Today’s joys were so great tha t I am full, full,full. Today was our last clinic day and we were serving the inmates of the local correctional facility. I didn’t know what to expect. We were told to leave our back packs and cameras on the bus. I brought in my water bottle, an emergency granola bar and my water bottle. We came in the front doors and ushered in through a front desk area to the inside, where I immediately saw the bars. We were put into a small room which turned out to be the childrne’s visiting area. It was oddly painted-the bars were rainbow coloured, the walls also brightly coloured and winnie the pooh and piglet were there to welcome us to jail! Once we figured out how clinic would work, we got to work on unloading teh bus witht he pharmacy boxes and things we needed. Chairs were brought in. Patients were lined up two locked doors away. They were brought in in groups of four. There were no children today, so I didn’t really have a defined job. I waited with the inmates and spoke with them. One man wanted to know if Barry was really Chinese. He commented that it was hard for Dominicans to learn to speak Chinese, but that the Chinese can learn to speak dominicano. Also, he pointed out that all chinese can fix watches, even the children. Some of the guards came in line and were also seen. Dentists set up their room in a separate area. The tools were kept outside the room, and were passed in through the windows as they were needed, one at a time. I have heard so many horror stories about jails such as la Victoria. But this was nothing like that. This is a model correctional facility. It is limited to 200 inmates and they will not allow 201. People on the outside might view those who are condemned to life in prison as the 100 delinquents they have in there. But the staff don't. They see them as 10 mechanics, 3 brick layers, 8 artists, 12 uphoslterers, 10 furniture builders and so on. They are not viewed by what they did, they are viewed as who they are. There is training. Each new inmate is given a whole work up to assess their needs. They are tested in literacy skills. If someone cannot read or write, they are assigned to a teacher and classroom work until they lear n to read. The inmate is given their room and bed and they are taught and expected to keep it clean. They all move up to tasks of keeping the whole place clean. We observed this as we could see thorugh bars into the eating area nd we could see those who were assigned the task of dish washing.
I was overwhelmed with the dignity and humanity that we saw and felt. Patients were friendly and kind, smiling and not one grumpy face.
We were invited to hear some singing during lunch. We all marched in to the warden's office. A very small office. Kareoke was set up on his computer and two inmates performed for us. One sang a love song called Perdoname. It was kind of ironic. This means Forgive Me. Thesecond song was written by the performer and it was a rap. It was about hi s life previous to this one, in La Victoria, the huge max. security jail. He was there for nine years. Then he came here to the correctional facility in MP. The song was incredibly moving and I wept as I listened. I gave him a hug afterwards and asked if he could write down the words for me. He did. Four pages out of Barry's notebook later, he asked me if I had a way to record the song, since the words alone would not be the same. I explained that we had to leave all our things on the bus, andnot bring in any backpacks or cameras. He told me that I could ask the warden. So we did and we were given special permission. Then we went into the wardens office and recorded him singing this song and another one he had written. When we were waiting for the permission, he started singing to me all these songs he has written. I felt a deep connection and was very moved. One song he sang was about being abandoned by his father when he was 8 months old. He really needed the love of a father. Now he found his father and his name is God. His eyes started filling up as he sang this one and I couldn't help but cry too.
Milton and I prayed with him. He gave me his wife's facebook name and email, so that I could send her the video footage of him singing. When I get home I will try to upload the video to you tube and then link it here.
Today was a profound day.
|the wardens came to speak to us at night|
|a wall mural, painted by an inmate|