I went to prison looking for answers and only found more questions. Being incarcerated, learning how to live there and then getting back into society is a vicious cycle for a great percentage of Mexican youth who are put in prison for minor crimes and in many cases wait years to be sentenced. We live in a system that prevents them from being rehabilitated and of course prevents them from proper social reintegration.
I went to prison and was able to talk to several men and women who shared with me activities that they learned inside of prison as well as activities they enjoy the most or that they wish they could do more of.
To my surprise many of them said they “didn´t have time” to learn a lot of things because they had to work. Article 18 of the Mexican Constitution states that the purpose of the Mexican prison system is to obtain the reintegration of the defendant into society, ensuring he or she doesn´t commit a crime again. However, because an intern is charged for everything inside of prison their main focus is to work during their “free” time in order to have a “decent” living in prison.
This may sound simple, but it´s not, It´s a broken system which doesn´t allow for rehabilitation in any way possible. The moment the prisoner puts foot on a prison he is charged for his clothes, for a cement bed if they are available and if he can afford it, for a blanket, for common food, for every liter of water, for one shower a week and double or triple if he wants to shower more than once a week. They´re charged for being able to sell things inside of prison; they can hire another inmate as bodyguard if they have the money, they pay if they want visitors, among other things. On average, an incarcerated individual pays $300 dollars monthly while in prison. Details from what I heard were actually published by BBC news http://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias/2015/11/151124_mexico_presos_carcel_pago_an.
Because they are busy trying to earn enough money to pay for basic needs in prison, only 38% participate in rehabilitation activities. Of course many of the lucky ones gain support from their families but this perpetuates de cycle of oppression among low income families in Mexico.
When I talked to women I perceived things differently. It´s possible I felt worse about the place because I am a woman, and therefore I can find it easier to feel empathy simply because any face in there says “I could be you”. However, another difference between the two prisons is the size. They both face an over population and the consequences of that fact but the women have a much smaller space, making it that much difficult to live in an overpopulated prison.
Women talked to me a lot about their feelings, their anger and resentment. Men talked more about work, about money, about what they do. When developing a reintegration program I was challenged to think if maybe it should focus on one gender. However, after listening to both genders separately I realized that we live in a world with diversity, different genders are part of the equation and the challenges of facing such differences must be dealt with in order to thrive.
I want to create a social enterprise to train and employ previously incarcerated youth for a proper social reintegration. The difference between the programs I´ve seen and the one I want to implement is that I want to focus not only in providing a job but in providing the tools for them to create a better future for themselves, their families and incentivize social mobility. In order to do so, the social enterprise would allow them to rotate during a two year period in all areas of the business. This will give them a wider vision of what they can create and of life in general. They will be empowered not only by learning new skills, increasing their income but also by all the specialized workshops they will receive. After the two year period they will be able to decide if they want a permanent job at the business, if they want to apply at another business, if they want to study and specialize at a certain profession or if they want to open their own social enterprise, following the same model of employing formerly incarcerated youth. The idea is that the business will be so well structured that they could replicate is as a type of franchise.
The Inter-American Bank of Development recently published an open competition calling for solutions on how to reduce stigmatization and promote labor market integration of people deprived of liberty. This is an amazing opportunity to put the project I´ve been working on out there, so I submitted an application. Do take a look at the video explaining the model I came up with after the research I´ve made and the professional experiences that I´ve had and if you like it please support it by LIKING the video on youtube
called “Intenta, Crea, Transforma.”
If you have any ideas, opinions, thoughts about this, feel free to contact me.