We had a late start due to a hold up in the door around the reading glasses I brought for the women. For some reason the guard thought they were fashion glasses and argued with me about giving them to the women. When I finally explained they were for work, she relented but we still started class an hour later than expected.
Today was noisy! The women had to punch holes in the leather using a hammer and a metal punch, so the majority of the class was spent hammering. Then they used leather thread to sew their pieces together into the shape of the bag. It was fun to watch the bags take shape, although not without some very strong hands. Threading the leather stripes through the holes in the bag requires a lot of force and the women were silent as they tugged and pulled to get their bags constructed.
After the class I met with Gladys, who was released from the prison 2 months ago. Gladys was a big time participant in our programs and sent me her phone number shortly after her release. Now she is living just a few blocks from the prison.
We met at the prison and walked together to her home. Her husband is incarcerated for another 4 years and she moved close by so that she can visit him and maintain the connections she made in the prison. Gladys learned to sew in the prison and, during her 13 years there, developed relationships with people who contract her for work. Many of these people work in the prison so by positioning herself close by she can easily meet with her customers.
Gladys was very proud to tell me about how she bought her house. Before her incarceration she didn’t own a home so upon being released she didn’t have anywhere to live. She was able to stay with her children for a few months while she searched for a living situation. Initially she planned on renting a room but discovered that the rent was really high and there wasn’t enough space for her sewing machines. Eventually, she decided to buy a small piece of land with a one room house on it which is about the size of a bedroom.
Although her home is simple, it is impressive when she managed to do with the land in just 2 months. She told me initially the house had a dirt floor and the walls were covered in spider webs. There was no water or electricity and no pathway to the house because there were mountains of large rocks. She worked to clear the rocks, got water and electricity put in, cleaned the house and painted the inside, and put down a concrete floor. Now, her home has a small cooking area, a bed, and a corner for her sewing machines so she can work.
Another lovely addition to her life is that her 4 year old granddaughter is living with her. The Yanamilla district is far from the center of Ayacucho and somewhat isolated. Gladys’ granddaughter keeps her company and, as she told me, they do everything together. After years of being unable to spend time with her children and their children, I can tell that having the opportunity to build a relationship with her granddaughter is very meaningful for Gladys.
Now that her house is set up, Gladys is ready to work! Today was her fourth day in her home, and she just finished two small sewing projects. She is optimistic that now that she is set up, she will find work. Already, one group from the prison have asked her to complete a sewing project.
I’m so proud of Gladys and the way she has set herself up for success. She owns something and is building equity, while keeping her the overhead for her sewing business low. She has strategically positioned herself close to where she is most likely to find work and is actively talking with people about work. In short- she is going after her future and it is marvelous to witness!