A whole month has past since our last blog. Since then we have made more friends, performed more dramas, painted a mural, been bitten by more mosquitos and deepened our relationships in the youth prison. I can now almost get away with wearing a base ball cap and greeting people with a fist punch, even though our street language leaves a lot to be desired; the young people can tell that we love them so we tend to get away with it.
Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoon we are greeted at the gates by a different policeman, our bags are no longer checked as they are used to seeing our faces. As the light breaks through the gates our gaze turns to the shadows as this is where the ‘newbies’ sit waiting to have their heads shaved. Many have come from the streets and have head lice, many have sores around their face from the glue sniffing and drug abuse. They glance up at us, and in the back of your mind you realise that you would think twice before approaching them on the outside, but a stretched out hand and a few kind words softens their tough exterior. You start to wonder why they have been sent here and what crimes they may have committed. But generally we don’t ask as this helps us to treat each one as an equal. We know that they need to face up to what they have done at some stage, but it’s far easier to keep the judgement to one side whilst getting to know them.
We usually spend the next 15 minutes wandering round the site. The prison has high walls and barbed wire to keep everyone in, but it’s not like any prison we have seen or even heard of in UK. Sometimes the atmosphere feels a bit like a youth camp, only the young people are more polite and better behaved here!
By now all the 80-90 inmates and staff know us quite well and as we walk we can hear the names Dino, Ruth and Ricardo being shouted from across the ‘cancha’. We are greeted with hugs, hand shakes and fist punches whilst some of the inmates try out their latest English phrases on us. “Smoke weed”, “Hello mate” and “Hello baby” seem to be their favourites. The more astute have now figured out that two of these greetings are gender specific… which is a bonus.
Once the guards realize we have arrived it’s not long before role call is in full swing in the blazing heat of the day and the young people are selected to join our session. At this point we prepare the hall and start to fully rely on the prayers we have have just said in the taxi beforehand…
The young people have responded well to the sessions, we are now about half way through. We concentrate on one theme per week for example; friendship, life choices, self control, citizenship, community, self worth. Each Bible based session focuses on one big question, a drama performance, a discussion and team games.
At first some of them just wanted to watch but now most, if not all, are fully engaged with the drama and are sharing their thoughts with the rest of the group. It can be quite tough when you feel you are making progress, then you hear that some have escaped back to the streets. Recently one of the girls that escaped a few months ago returned. She was found by the police with a gang that hangs out near the cemetery. It seems that her family don’t want to be involved. She is back with us now but is suffering the effects of glue sniffing. Slow speech and slow reactions:( It’s hard to know what to do in this situation but a hug and a few kind words brought a smile to her face. We may start seeing her regularly on visiting days.
Ruth has commented a few times that this work is so far removed from what we have been used to. It certainly isn’t St. Albans High School for Girls! But we are amazed at were God takes us when you make yourself available to Him.
Tonight we are meeting one of the lads who has been through the rehabilitation system. He was perceived as the ‘head honcho’ when we met him in November. He was released a month ago and called my number out of the blue. It sounds like he has his life back on track, but now I guess the hard work starts… We are now trying to link him up with a church we know in Santa Cruz.
We would love to show you some images of the work but unfortunately we are not allowed to take photos in COMETA the main prison/rehab centre.
Below are some photos of other projects we have been involved with in the past month:)
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