Last Tuesday I went to visit the women at the women's prison known as Puente Grande. It is a 50 minute drive to the prison and I went with two ladies who have been visiting the women for more than 6 years. We had planned the 50th birthday party for one of the inmates...Nina. We prepared lasagne, salad, brought a caramel cheesecake and some gifts like Hanes mens T-shirts in white and shampoo, practical gifts, but more than welcome, anyway.
As they say, the best laid plans...When we entered the open area reserved for inmates and authorized guests, we were greeted by Esmeralda my partner in dollmaking, who manages the production, paints all the faces, and sews the bodies and the clothing, while training others to embellish with beading, sequins, and decoration of hair and other finishing touches.
She informed us that Nina had been taken to the hospital early in the morning to be examined for chronic back problems and possible surgery.
We were very disappointed that Nina could not attend her birthday party and we delayed starting the festivities, until the very last moment. Then as we have done in the past, we made the best of the situation and celebrated Ninas birthday without the honored guest!
Nina is one of the few remaining US citizen inmates at Puente Grande and for the past few months, there have been two main things on her mind; her impending early release and her birthday. She has also been suffering from back pain, so when the guard woke her before sunrise last Tuesday and told her she would be going to the hospital, she was obliged to dress in her beige prison dress and concede that she would be taken into Guadalajara to the Hospital Civil, to begin medical studies on her back.
When one is woken for a grueling day, a guard is assigned and you are are not allowed to use the telephone to notify anyone coming to visit (or otherwise in a position to help her escape)...
All inmates programmed to go to the hospital meet in the administrators office to await special guards (all dressed in black, with bulletproof vests and big heavy boots)...
Paperwork is done releasing the inmates into the care of these special guards who oversea any transfers of inmates for the hospital and back, to the courthouse and back or even when overcrowding requires permanent transfers to other prisons.
The inmates are loaded into either a van or an ambulance (depending on what is running and how many inmates are going). Then once loaded, the van drives to the gate and the van is driven over a well (like what you drive your car over at jiffy lube) and the undercarriage of the vehicle is examined, while the black guards are armed and rejoin the vehicle once they are armed (to the teeth). Also, at that time, the inmates are handcuffed with hands in front. Sack lunches are loaded.
Once outside the confines of the prison wall, the vehicle convoy is joined with its counterparts from the men's prisons within the same prison complex.
Then, its coffee break time. All of the prisoners wait in the back of a sweltering van for the guards in black to have their coffee and donuts.
Usually, the two vehicles are accompanied by another pickup full of heavily armed men with automatic weapons.
The nauseating drive begins and car sickness usually settles in within 5 - 10 minutes from arriving at the Hospital Civil. There is a social worker from the hospital who meets the caravan and organizes tests, appointments and order in which the inmates are seen.
When it is your turn, you are taken under heavy guard, your handcuffed arms linked with your own personal guard and you are paraded through the public hospital passing rooms and waiting rooms full of gawking people until you reach your destination. The nice thing (one of the only nice things) is that you dont have to wait with the others, who sometimes wait for hours just to be seen.
My overall experience with the quality of the Doctors and diagnosis is that they do a thorough job of testing, then diagnosis, which usually entails multiple visits to the Doctors, before any treatment is prescribed.
Inmates are taken one or two at a time, and those who are not taken, wait inside the van with the back doors open, but with lack of ventilation and oppressive heat that adds to the nausea that has already happened due to the ride there. If the guards are amenable, you may have a bathroom break before heading back to the prison, an hour away.
Eventually, everyone is returned, lunch is served (one brief moment in which the inmates are unlocked from the handcuffs).
Nina experienced this instead of the celebration we all had planned for her. She returned to the prison just a little after 2pm...a longer day than many of these visits take.
We were clearing up the party when she arrived and since we had a 2pm appointment with her attorney outside the prison, we couldnt stay longer.
She had a strained, tired, disappointed look on her face as we explained we had to leave, but she smiled broadly when she saw all of the bags of food and presents that were hers.
The final irony was when Nina reminded us all that her birthday last year was exactly the same; she was taken to the hospital on that same day a year ago and missed her birthday celebration then, too.
My name is Rebecca Roth. I am an author, poet, artist, and most importantly a doll maker/designer. I live and work in the central highlands of Mexico.