Monday, July 2, 2012
Today’s varied activities-trash, prison, and tees
It was my turn to blog for the Schweitzer team, so I've copied it below. No way I was going to relive this morning again so soon.
Still before breakfast, many of us joined the medical volunteers in helping the children pick up trash in the children’s village. This is a chore they take turns doing. I believe there were about 20-30 children, and several adults. Everyone donned rubber gloves, and we swooped the area, filling several yard size trash bags. Although in my book it would be much easier to put trash in a trash can the first time around, that isn’t the way here. Someone would find many other uses for the trash cans, and bags, so they can’t be left out. This way also teaches responsibility, gives the children chores, and a health lesson, too.
After breakfast, we loaded the vans with the items for the prisoners and went to town. There is a certain protocol in this endeavor, and it has taken Fr. Mark and Paige several years to have the kind of relationship with the Chief Inspector to enable these visits. Once there, we had to wait about 30-45 minutes for the Inspector to arrive. When he did, he pulled up in a heavily armored car, windows darkened and reinforced glass. Although there were others there in highly decorated uniforms, the Inspector had a Hawaiian shirt on. He came over to meet each of us, talked to Paige, looked at the picture of her baby, and had our bags inspected (cursory). He then called for Paige to meet him in his office, where he proceeded to give her a hard time for not being there for the last 7 months (she was in the U.S. having her baby) and wasn’t going to let us in. Paige used her powerful art of persuasion and managed to get us in in two groups. So the first group went in, and the rest of us waited in the car for about 45 minutes. When it was our turn, we walked into the main courtyard and saw what we had been warned about. It is not indescribable; the conditions are deplorable, dreadful, miserable, reprehensible, disgraceful, and woefully inadequate.
Cells surround a central courtyard. There are probably 10-12 cells, 10x 15 feet or so. In these cells are anywhere from 25 to 47 men. One cell had only 5 prisoners, who were isolated because of chicken pox. Prisoners are allowed time in the courtyard once a day for 30 minutes each, maybe. We saw men bathing in the courtyard, soapy water from a bucket, with their underwear on. None of the men I saw had more clothing than that on, most likely because the heat would have been unbearable. Some men were clinging to the iron bars on the doorway, struggling for fresh air. Others were sitting on a bunk bed,new additions to the cells. Some were eating some brown slop from a tin bowl. The courtyard was strewn with freshly laundered clothing, drying on the 100 degree concrete. We were told how many men were in each cell, and that exact number of packets were handed through the cell opening to the “cell leader”. Hierarchy exists in prison, too. As we moved from cell to cell, we noticed a variety of emotions among the inmates– despondency, to a few smiles. I was told once, “Bless America,” and another “Thank You”, in English.
The women fared a bit better. They had an enclosed area in front of their cells, where drying laundry hung above their heads. They sat and talked, as women tend to do, some combing or braiding hair. They were happy to see Paige’s picture of Lydia. We handed their packets to the cell leader–washcloth, soap, sports bra and panties. We concluded our visit by leaving enough packets for the prison workers, as well, to ensure everyone was happy. As we left, we had to wash our hands with chlorinated water. I was happy to do so. No pictures were allowed.
Some of these inmates are guilty, some not, some have done more time than they could possible imagine for petty crimes. Some have been incarcerated for months or even years without being formally charged or seen a judge. It really doesn’t matter in the log run. No one should have to suffer the inhumane conditions here. Like Keeley said, God loves us all, and we are all his children. Pray for Haiti, please.