We woke up Sunday morning expecting a slow day with nothing to do but read, nap, play cards, and enjoy each other’s company, but we went to bed exhausted and more informed on Haiti’s prison system.
It was Mother’s Day in Haiti, and a few of us agreed to go to one of two national women’s prisons. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into when we hopped in the van after our breakfast, but we wanted to experience as much of Haiti as possible in our seven weeks of work. Upon arrival at the prison, we learned that in past years the First Lady of Haiti has liberated a few women in the prison as a Mother’s Day gift. So when we walked into the prison, we were expecting some sort of ceremony but we still aren’t sure if that ended up happening.
The occasion was a celebration of women, complete with a dancing competition. There were some groups competing seriously, with matching costumes and in-sync choreography and others jumped to the front of the room or pushed their friends to freestyle in front of a room full of eyes. In between dance acts, a few women strutted into the room showing off their skills in sewing and crocheting—skills they learned in prison. Each model had their own design style, complete with handmade sandals.
What was most surprising to witness was the way the guards interacted with the prisoners. The majority of the guards were women, and it was obvious that they had a loving relationship with the prisoners. Some of them even danced in the competition, joking around like good friends.
After talking with a French Canadian guard who is working in Haiti for a year to observe their prison system, we learned that at least sixty percent of the women had not yet been convicted and that it often took four years living in prison before conviction. Some women were arrested for simply calling about their sister who had been arrested for a crime, so they are living in prison for an interminable amount of time without committing a crime.
When we got back to our house, we still couldn’t believe that we had visited a prison in Haiti. While we were partly amused at the day’s events, we also all felt a little unsettled at the slow process of trying a prisoner.