Today was my second to last day in the prison and we used the day to complete unfinished projects. I always enjoy the last few days of my jewelry class because they often become a time for me to chat with the women about their lives. Today, while the women finished their projects, several told me about their sentences.
One woman is leaving in 2 months after a year and a half sentence. Her sentence is short because she was caught trafficking only chemicals, not actual drugs. Three women are serving 15 year sentences, one has completed 7 years and two have completed 5. I was surprised when one woman joked about her sentence, telling me, “I have 15 years. It’s really nothing. No, nothing at all.” We laughed, yet I felt uncomfortable until I reminded myself I also use humor and laughter to help get me through the hard moments in my life.
Next the conversation shifted to their children. All of the women have children outside the prison, varying in ages from 5 onto adulthood. Some have children that live in Ayacucho and visit twice a week, while others have children that live in Lima, the jungle, or other cities throughout Peru. These women rarely see their children and, I imagine, yearn to be reunited with them in their own homes. Yet the women tell me about their children with pride. They tell me about what their children are studying, how they are doing well in school, and their temperaments (“Oh, the youngest, he is a handful!” “My oldest is so mellow”).
As the morning went on the women began talking to me about American music and artists they liked. One woman mentioned Justin Bieber and began singing “Baby Baby”. Then, throughout the rest of the morning she would suddenly burst out with, “Baby, baby, ohhhhhh baby. Baby, baby, ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, baby!”. We all laughed and I smiled, thinking about how silly the women can be.
The media, the news, and our own judgments create a “type” of person who commits crimes and we imagine these people at their very worst. We certainly don’t imagine them making jewelry and singing Justin Bieber, while talking proudly about their children. That is one of the reasons I love this work. Because I have the opportunity to know the women as human beings, with all of their quirks, and see them as people rather than a number or statistic.