In my last bog post I wrote about going to the prison across the street and teaching English.  As I was writing a bunch of thoughts came to me, things I thought about writing but that didn’t seem appropriate to that entry.  So here I am to write about life I’m general in that particular prison that I go to every Tuesday afternoon.

First, a little about the history of that prison.  It is a relatively new prison, built about ten years ago.  It was originally built as women’s prison.  When I arrived at FFHMs Home for needy children, in 2005, the new prison across the road had about 12 women incarcerated there.  In 2006-2007, violence and rebellion broke out in the city of Oaxaca,Mexico,  First the teachers union took over the city because their demands weren’t met by the governor of the state, whom they hated. They were soon joined by various communist and radical socialist groups, which plunged the city into turmoil for over a year.  Finally the president of Mexico sent in the troops to rescue the capital city of Oaxaca, and made hundreds of arrests.  The question was, where do we put all these new arrestees?  The answer was at the New, near empty prison just outside of Tlacolula.  The new inmates were landed inside the prison in military helicopters, and the population jumped from 12 to over 200.
Soon after that our mission pastor began making regular trips to the prison, preaching the good news that even though their bodies were behind bars, their spirits could be free.  A few months after that, I began teaching English there.
I mentioned earlier that I am going to write about General life in that prison.  First I am going to write about my general life or experience there and then about what I see or have learned about the inmates General experience living there.
It takes me about 15 minutes to walk from the children’s home to the prison.  Outside the prison is a state police outpost.  The officer on duty wants to see my identification and asks me who I am going to visit.  I tell him I am an English teacher and that I am going to my class.  After all these years most of the police know me and just wave me on.  I proceed to the main gate, arriving about 3 pm.  The prison guards are supposed to start letting the public in at 3pm, but they normally don’t visitors in until 5, 10, or even 15 minutes past the hour.  There are usually a half dozen or so family members waiting to be admitted.  Almost all of the visiting families have a bag or two of food to bring in as well as a big bottle of Coca Cola, Mexico’s unofficial national drink.   At some point the guard will open the huge metal door, and let people in, three at a time.  Finally I am allowed in.  I give my special teacher identification to the guard, and then another guard, almost always a female, goes through my bag to make sure that I am not trying to smuggle in contraband, like weapons, drugs, or photos.  Once my bag is cleared, I need to be cleared.  First they make sure I am wearing the correct clothes.  Black, navy blue and camouflage clothes are not allowed, nor are hats, shorts or erotic clothing. If I am alright in the clothing department, a male guard escorts me into a tiny room and closes the door.  He pats me down, checking for knives, guns or the always dangerous cell phone.  If he decides I’m not a risk to myself or others, he opens another door and I retrieve my bag and make my way to checkpoint number two; Control.
It’s called Control because the two or three guards there control who goes from one side of the prison to the other.  One side consists of prisoners who are still on “trial” (see my last blog).  The other side consists of convicts.  My classroom is on the convict side.  I greet the guards, who always seem to be good natured and are friendly.  Some call me James Bond.  One guard likes to be called after the actor Van Dam.  I ask permission to pass, and ask them to unlock my classroom.  I always stop by to say “hi” to my ex-student Tony.  We both used to live in Santa Cruz, California.
When I get to my classroom, it is almost always locked, so my two or three students and I begin class sitting on a bench outside.  Eventually a guard will show up and we go inside.
The classroom has a huge white board and about 30 desks.  My first class is basic English, and my second class is do advanced students.  We finish about 5:30 and I make my way out of the prison and back to the mission.  Thus, my life at the prison.
The average inmates life at this prison is like nothing you have seen in movies regarding American inmates in American prisons.  In the movies, and in prisons in the U.S., like Alcatraz, there are bars all over the place.  In this Mexican prison, I have never seen any bars, although I have never been to see their cells, which probably have bars.  I have been in a couple Mexican prisons, and they are like little villages.  They elect a president.  They have little kiosks where they make things to sell, like belts, little boats, pictures, wallets, sandals, baskets, and lots and lots of soccer balls (receiving about 80 cents for each ball they sew together).  Some inmates tend gardens, make tacos, sell fruit and vegetables, or cut hair.  Generally there are families eating together and children playing on swings or teeter-totters.  There is a basketball court that also serves as a soccer play area, and there is almost always a spirit game of basketball or soccer going on.  Usually I forget that I  am in a prison,  because the atmosphere is more like the downtown plaza than a prison.  Most of the prisoners have a spouse or children on the outside, so they work at some kind of trade or job and sell their products to fellow prisoners, visitors, or their family members take the products out of the prison to sell.  There is a big wood shop where some inmates make furniture or frames for video games.

They also receive different types of education.  A prisoner who was soon to be released was joking with me that he didn’t want to be released.  Here at prison he was receiving free cooking classes, English classes, a computer course and Tae Kwon Do training.

A few times a year they have special celebrations, parties or fiestas.  When I was there last Tuesday, they were dismantling a circus like tent where they had had a special Mothers Day celebration.  During the Christmas and Easter season, different churches come in and provide meals, music and ministry to the prisoners.  In Mexico they have a Day of the Prisoner, and those confined within the concrete walls receive extra good  food and drink, along with bands playing their favorite tunes.

So there it is, life in a Mexican prison; my life for a few short hours a week, and what the inmates experience for months or years on end.  All things considered, it could be a lot worse.  Thank God for those who visit the imprisoned and help make their stay a lot better – life changing for those who  choose to follow Christ.

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Next blog – Looking Forward to Going Home

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Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you, yourselves were suffering.  Hebrews 13:3

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