Shared Grief by Angela

(Tiago’s note–This is the fourth (and the second for Angela) in a series of refections by women prisoners in Brazil.  The women have given their permission for this blog post although their names have been changed.  

In this reflection, Angela shares the story of a recent death in the prison and how the women shared the grief in order to help them make sense of it all.  Please think about and pray for the deceased woman, the author “Angela,” and the other women in prisons throughout the world.  Let’s ask Him to provide them with the sense of togetherness that will help get through their own trials.)

A week ago we said, “Goodbye” to one of our country mates from South Africa.  It came as a very big shock to all of us.  Two days before, her cellmate had to carry her to Saúde (Health Clinic) because she suffered from asthma and could not breathe.  From there, she was transferred to the prison hospital where she passed away.

It was a very sad weekend for all of us.  I know that not only for me but for all of us, our thoughts were with our loved ones, thinking that if anything should happen (to us) there are no last goodbyes.  We are all so far away from our families.

On the next Tuesday, we all got together with our consulate to pay our last respects to her.  It was heartbreaking but the unity of everybody present was overwhelming and the togetherness of all the different cultures were all that some needed.

My thoughts and prayers go out to her parents and family who lost a special person in such horrible circumstances.

God bless you!

Angela

Advertisements

Pink…and Green by Winona

(Tiago’s note–This is the third in a series of refections by women prisoners in Brazil.  The women have given their permission for this blog post although their names have been changed.  

In this reflection, Winona tells a little bit about her experience and what keeps her strong. Please think about and pray for Winona and the other women who write these reflections.  Let’s ask God to provide them with the strength needed to finish this painful and lonely Passeio.)

Hello, my name is Winona.  I am a middle-aged woman from the Netherlands.  I was arrested last year together with my boyfriend.  We have been together for almost 3 years now!  We were arrested for drug-trafficking, so we are both now in prison.  To be here is not easy and can be very hard but I’ll have to keep strong!

I miss my boyfriend a lot, same as my family and his parents!  But luckily I’ve got four good friends here from South Africa.  Also the letters from my boyfriend keep me strong and the letters from our families too.  And of course my faith in God and my prayers helps me to get through this!

From Monday till Friday I work, but its hard work, but it keeps me busy, and every Saturday I look forward to see the missioners and Pastoral Carcerária members (who visit us) to talk with them and this also keeps me strong!

We hope and pray that our sentence will not be that long so that we can go back home soon and see our families again!

But I know God is with us.

Kind Regards,

Winona

Visit to Brazilian Women’s Prison

After a two-month wait for my prison visit ID cards from the São Paolo government, I made my first visit to a Brazilian prison; Penitenciaria Feminina da Capital (PFC). This women’s prison, in the middle of Sao Paulo, houses foreign women who are mostly in jail on drug trafficking charges and convictions. Some are waiting on their trials, some are awaiting sentencing, and the most are paying back their debt to society.  It was a daunting but eye-opening experience all at the same time and one I would like to share with you.

We first went through security where we had to leave most of our belongs, including our watches, mobile phones, cash and bags behind.  We were then searched for illegal contraband.  The security procedures were pretty tight but we were able to bring in Bibles, plain envelopes, notepads without writing, and pens.  The guards look through every piece of paper you bring into the prison.

After security, our team of about eight Catholic missioners said a prayer under a small tree and split up among the three different buildings. My Irish priest partner, Father Geraldo, told me he had some favorite prisoners to attend to and as we walked into the concrete courtyard he said “You are on your own now.”

I looked around at the woman and they stared me down. The yard was lined with a 30-foot high wall with a lone-guard standing on top of the wall patrolling with a gun. The 30-40 woman, all dressed in the same white t-shirts and khaki shorts, had the day off from work and were doing laundry, walking around the yard, or sitting on concrete benches in the shade. There were also two young Russian girls doing Yoga at the other end of the yard by doing head-stands.

I was fairly nervous without really knowing how to approach the woman so I just sat down next to a couple and starting chatting. Because this is foreigner’s prison, many of the woman speak English. I met woman from South Africa, Malaysia, Canada, Cape Verde, Angola, and the Philippines. As we chatted, they started to open up to me.  They were very happy to tell me their stories; stories about their convictions, stories about their incarceration, and mostly stories about their families on the outside. Some even asked me to send email messages to their children and husbands.

Unfortunately, these woman are all on the bottom rung of the drug smuggling ladder and paying the price for the big drug-trading of others. Most were naive in thinking they were going to Brazil in hopes of finding work to support their families back home but ended up conned into smuggling drugs, eventually caught, and sentenced 6-7 years in PFC.

The sun started setting and the woman started to get more anxious because they knew their time in the courtyards would soon be ending and they would be sent back to their cells.  Without watches, I asked one how they knew what time it was.  She did not answer me and it was easy to sense what her response would have been if she had.

After about two hours of sitting and talking, we were asked to leave the prison.   Before we walked out of the yard the woman gave me a hug and kept asking me when I would return. They also asked me to bring English Bibles, English-language magazines, and writing tools.

Their names were Emelda, Elizabeth, Samantha, Ginalean and Daniella. Please pray for them!

It was an amazing experience and after a long orientation process with Maryknoll Lay Missioners, I am beginning to feel like a true missioner. Can’t provide any pictures but I hope to share some of these stories with you as we continue our mission journey.