The second and fourth Tuesday of each month two ladies and I meet in Chapala, Mexico and carpool our way to the women’s prison. Carla, Sheila and I take the hour-long drive from Chapala to the Reclusorio Feminil (Women’s Prison) at Puente Grande.
We pool our resources and with help from the Presbyterian Church here, we bring a picnic for them and food staples, clothing, cleaning and hygiene products.
This past Tuesday, it was only Sheila and me, and we met at the bottom of her street, loaded up the car and took off for Puente Grande as we’ve done for many years now. We arrived a little past 11am this time and went through the check-in process.
The check-in process includes the following steps:
Usually, our friends meet us at the door to help with our bounty of bags. And, usually, they have the table nicely decorated and we sit in the shade under a canopy provided by the Coca-Cola Company. At this point, it doesn’t seem like a prison—if you’re not a prisoner.
The books in English we often bring are for Samantha, one of the only Americans and English speakers at the prison. Samantha loves historical fiction and science fiction the most. All legal cases drag on and on and Samantha’s case is no exception so she passes the time reading a lot.
This time I made my creamy potato salad, which is always a hit. Sheila brought deli sandwich fixin’s and mango nectar which we mixed with mineral water. We almost always start our get-together with a coffee made with either hot milk or hot water. The coffee is instant, but we don’t care because it’s about the moment, not the amenities. When our coffee arrived, I accidently dropped a 10 peso coin into Sheila’s hot milk. To which the ladies fussed and insisted she get a new milk even though she didn’t care about the coin being dirty.
Many times I get my hair braided by Esmeralda. She French braids it into a serpentine shape that bends one way and the other. I know she enjoys it and I like the look, also!
Soon, a ladies mariachi band arrived in full costume of black skirts and vests, white blouses and large pink hair adornments and before long, we were treated to a mariachi concert with all the big tunes of the genre. The prison actually hires entertainment!
Esmeralda told us that her new attorney was coming later and asked if could I stay and meet him. I was happy to stay, and I got a good feeling about him.
The time spent is always special even if there is some sad or tragic news. This visit we learned that one woman we know, who is accused of kidnapping and was involved in several cases, was sentenced to 102 years. Obviously, this is a life sentence. Imagine the enormous sorrow one must feel when given this kind of sentence.
On a brighter note, the first gay marriage in the prison took place about a week ago. This is historic because only a few years ago, not only would this have been impossible, but holding hands or kissing would land you in segregation for a week or two.
It always surprises me how good it feels to go back to prison—because I love the women I know there who create our dolls.
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.