My week in pics: Last few days with the family in Turks & Caicos, jet skiing, view from the flight home (LOVE airplane window pics!), first few days in Medellin, interviewing some amazing women…
And happy belated International Women’s Day!
I hope you somehow celebrated… I will share more about my day soon enough (which included holding on-the-spot interviews in a local park and square… and hearing some amazing stories from local women here in Colombia.)
However today, I want to share a bit about my experience visiting a local prison before I left Bogota…
Our visit to a Colombian Prison ~ A good thing or more like Poverty Tourism?
Although it looked like a run-down apartment from the outside, after 4 different passport checkpoints, having our fingerprints taken, being smelled out by dogs, there was no mistaking we were entering into a high security prison.
And as we got closer, you could see the faces and the hands and the hollering coming out of the crowded barred windows. It was almost like a scene out of a movie.
We were eventually led to Patio 6 (they call the different sections of the prison patios…) which we would soon learn is for the extranjeros, the foreigners. It was also apparently the safest of patios, and the inmates had special privileges (like having visits from the ‘tourists’…)
It was pretty real and pretty raw.
One gentleman from the Philippians, although now a yoga teacher and turned very spiritual, told us he carried around his special pen, with a blade as the tip, just in case.
Another man from Russia explained he was transferred here from another prison after 11 months. He seemed to have an extremely positive attitude, had been rewarded for good behaviour, but admitted he had no idea when he was ever getting out.
And yes, this was the prison where it was just revealed there was a pile of bones discovered under the woodworking shop (where we also visited… it was actually quite impressive some of the things being made.)
It was eye opening in many ways and for many different reasons.
And yet, what was arguably the most disturbing was that we were visiting in a way as though they were animals in a zoo.
I know we were going with the best of intentions, and with a local volunteer organization that do a lot of good work. And yet the time actually spent with the inmates was not sufficient enough to really make an impact, in my opinion. (Although I’m sure they got a kick out of the banana cheer I was asked to do to break the ice!) We spent more time being shown around, asked if we wanted to buy any of their handmade crafts and bags, and getting through the various points of security.
I actually do believe some of the conversations we had did potentially make some of them think. And I’m sure they enjoyed some new faces. And yet, they must have also felt strange about having these tourists looking into their lives, in a pretty vulnerable way.
When I was volunteering in Calcutta for a short period of time with Mother Teresa’s Missions of Charity, I remember having similar feelings in that yes, we were there to ‘do good,’ but were we actually doing good, or simply there to feel good about what we were doing?
I realized early on, unless I was prepared to stay there for a significant period of time, and really get to know the infrastructure and find out what was truly needed, I wasn’t really helping or doing good at all.
It’s a delicate subject, and a difficult conversation.
However I shall end with a small insight I had. In the moments of conversation and connection I did have with a few of these gentlemen at the prison, I saw them as people like you or I. And when you look into someone’s eyes, it is simply one human being looking at and connecting with another.
And that is ultimately what it’s all about.
We come from different backgrounds, grow up with different privileges, make different mistakes, and yet we’re all still people. And people need connection, and they are starving to be seen.
So don’t be too quick to judge – anyone for anything. We don’t know their story, and don’t really know what’s going on behind the scenes…
Enjoy a real moment of connection this week. Look into someone’s eyes, see them for who they are, and allow them to see you for who you really are.
Have a FAB week!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this delicate matter… please leave your thoughts below.