Day 1: After They Leave

Me with two of my students

Today was my first day back in the prison since February and getting in was a breeze. No pleading with guards, no explaining myself over and over again- I had my golden ticket (my previously approved permission letter) and waltzed right in. It helped, too, that most of the guards on duty were people I knew. In fact, one guard giggled as she searched me, going through the motions of the pat down and line of questioning, knowing full well I didn’t have a cell phone, chip, or USB.

Entering the women’s area I surprised the women. Apparently my message that I was coming didn’t make it, so my entrance was a shocker. Today was a short day as I explained what we were doing this trip and very briefly recapped the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe. What’s on the agenda?

Tomorrow I will kickoff this trip with a meeting with the women involved in the Santa Fe order. This meeting will recap the event, talk about the successes, some of the issues with the order, and begin discussing how we want to move forward with a production chain. One big thing we learned from Santa Fe is that the women need to be more organized in their production. Ultimately, we want to women to decide how this is going to happen, so tomorrow will be the first step in doing this.

Next I will teach a jewelry making class. I was pleased to hear that the women were excited about my plan for embroidered jewelry. In fact, they had some ideas of their own, which is good since I don’t know how to embroider. My hope is, since I cannot bring fully realized samples to the class, that this class will be a collaboration of skills- my knowledge of jewelry design and their knowledge of embroidery. To be honest, I’m not sure how this class will turn out, but their enthusiasm gave me hope that we can create beautiful art together. The last week we will have the very popular leather working class.

Catching up with the women today, I asked about two women who were released earlier this year. One, who had chronic health problems, is doing much better! One of the challenges to her health was the thin air in Ayacucho (we are 9,000 feet up) and she was in and out of the hospital with an oxygen mask. After her release she moved to Lima to be with her children and the lower elevation has drastically improved her health.

The other woman who was recently released is having a harder time. Her husband is still incarcerated so she visits the prison often. She told one of the women that she wishes she could come back to the prison because work is harder to find “in the street”. This is incredibly heartbreaking as she is an extremely talented seamstress who is a dedicated hard worker. I have her telephone number and I hope to meet with her and see how Ruraq Maki can help her with the transition.
The first day is always a reminder- some years of how much we have done and some years of how much we have left to do. Today was a mix of both, the joy of furthering our collaborative model with the women and the heartbreak of seeing where we need to provide more support.

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