On Thursday, Jennifer (founder/director of Casa de Amor) asked if I wanted to go with her to the men and womens´ jails. She wanted to take J.M., one of our little girls, to visit her parents. Of course I said yes!
J.M.´s mom had given some clothes to Jennifer for J.M. to wear, so that morning, I got her dressed up in her clothes, and we headed out. We first went to the men´s jail. There are 2 mens´ jails in Cochabamba and one maximum security facility. At the jail we went to, most of the crimes are related to drugs. I think Jennifer told me there were about 600 inmates there, and although there were people everywhere, it still didn´t seem like that many.
Now I´ve never been to a jail in the USA, so the only thing I could compare my jail visits to was what I´ve seen on the tv show Lock Up. However, it was VERY different! The way the visiting hours work is that there are certain times when the jail doors open and visitors are let in. After about 45 minutes, an announcement is made and visitors can leave. If you don´t make it out by 11:55am, you have to stay inside the jail until the doors open again at 2:30pm for the afternoon visiting hours.
To enter the jail, I had to show them my passport and at the mens´ jail, they gave me a visitors pass to enter. If you want, you can pay 1 boliviano to have the inmate you´re visiting called over the loudspeaker. Jennifer knows multiple people in the jail, and they all seemed excited to see her. When you enter the jail, there´s an open courtyard filled with tables and chairs. Lots of inmates had visitors. One of the guys that Jennifer knows took us upstairs to find J.M.´s dad. He seemed happy to see her at first, but only held her for a second. She wasn´t thrilled with him holding her, and although she didn´t cry, she kept reaching back for me. It was kind of sad because some of his friends seemed more excited to see her than he was.
It was a really interesting experience being at the mens´ jail. Everything is so crowded and there are people everywhere. The men don´t have to wear jail uniforms so everyone was just dressed in street clothes (same at the womens´jail). So many of the inmates have horrible scars on their faces and arms from fighting. One man that I met has told Jennifer in the past that jail is his home and he never wants to leave. In the past when he was gotten out of jail, he has committed more crimes so he can come back. It such a crazy life that´s hard for me to imagine. For many of the inmates, being in jail is more safe and comfortable than living on the streets.
After the mens´ jail, we headed across the street to the womens´ jail. It was a lot different than the mens´ jail. I had to give them my passport again, but instead of a visitors pass, I received a stamp on my arm. Jennifer also knows many women at the jail so I was able to meet a few of them.
J.M.´s mom was SO excited to see her! I got choked up a few times watching them together. It´s been awhile since they´ve seen each other, but J.M. was happy to let her mom and her mom´s friends hold her. They were excited to see her again, too! In the womens´ jail, the kids can live with their parents (There are about 500 inmates at this jail, and 200 kids). She lived with her mom in jail until this past March when she came to live at Casa de Amor. Although it was for the best, I know her mom misses her a lot and it was a really hard transition for both of them.
Inmates have to pay for everything in jail, including rent for a cell, a mattress, food and anything else they might want. There are some jobs but it´s pretty hard to get one. During visiting hours, they do come around with free pastries, however! We all got cheese empanadas and they were delicious! So soft and warm! Jennifer, J.M.´s mom, various friends, and I all sat down at a table to eat and visit. Her mom had some more clothes to give Jennifer for J.M. and a big blanket for her bed. She also noticed that J.M. was missing an earring, so she went to a little ¨store¨ in the jail and bought her another pair. Unfortunately, she´s already lost one!
J.M.´s mom kept saying she couldn´t believe how big J.M. is now! She´s ¨gordita¨with her chunky stomach! Although J.M. isn´t walking yet, she´s doing so much better at pulling up to stand on her own and walking with support. Hopefully it won´t be too much longer until she´s walking on her own! She should definitely be walking on her own by the end of the year, and the tentative plan is for J.M. to return back to the jail with her mother around that time.
I was so happy to see that J.M. felt comfortable with her mom. She only reached for me a couple times when she wanted more bread! I was able to tell her mom about some of the new things she´s learning and all of our fun outings. Her mom told me that I´m like her mom for now! Although I shouldn´t have favorites, we all do and J.M. is one of mine so I´m happy to be her ¨mom¨!
Our visit went by pretty fast and we had to head out before we got locked in for awhile! I´m hoping to go back with Jennifer and J.M. in a few weeks to visit her mom, and after that, I want to take J.M. every couple weeks on my own. If J.M. does get to move back in with her mom, I think it´s important that they do have a close relationship to make the transition easier on her.
The little jailbird!