Worth it!

We recently organized our first puppet show for children visiting their fathers in the toughest men’s penitentiary in Mexico City, the prison for inmates who have lost all their appeals, even their plea to not be transferred to that penitentiary. There, they have nothing left to do but live out their sentence. The place also houses the toughest convicts who could not be controlled in other prisons. The average sentence is 30 years. 98% of the prison population is desperately poor. Over 50% never have visitors, which means no outside support and an urgency to find ways to earn money in order to survive (as they have to buy all their basic necessities themselves).

Upon entering, I am faced with clusters of skinny men all dressed in old, dirty, dark blue colors, with emaciated faces and empty, sad, desperate eyes. A pungent smell hits us and pervades the air everywhere we go, a smell of garbage, putrefaction, and sewage. A smell of anguish and desperation. I am overwhelmed with the feeling of despair around me.

Inside the penitentiary, little stands selling crafts line a main alley, as well as food stalls and small shops, all operated by prisoners. Visitors buy there when they come. Many men are standing against the walls, on their own, a vacant look on their faces, letting their life go by—the sentence, the sadness, and the depression.

Some offer their help to carry our luggage, to do something, to feel useful, to get a sense of belonging and perhaps a remuneration; many do so with broken spirits.

Others are enjoying the bittersweet experience of their family visiting.

The facilities are old, decrepit, and dirty; the paint is peeling; and the equipment is run-down. The entire universe of these men is painted in dirty shades of navy blue, gray and black.

We get to the auditorium, ready for the show, and display the books and crayons that will be distributed to the children. The presentation begins, and besides the 50 visiting children with their mothers and incarcerated fathers, a number of other prisoners join in. Little by little, they all let their inner child out, and laugh, enjoy, and forget for a moment their reality.

We leave feeling nostalgic. What we did doesn’t seem much compared to the need, but it brought a bit of laughter, joy, and love.