I went, and I met and talked to many of the prisoners. After creating an initial rapport, I cut them a deal: I would use a certain amount of my time to do things in their representation at a specific day and hour. At the same time they would do whatever I asked them to do as an artist. So none of us would be wasting time, we would be exchanging it. In other words, I would do whatever they wanted me to do and vice versa. And what they usually want me to do is to literally take their place in the outside world. To visit the tomb of their brother and say a few words; to ask their father for forgiveness; to go dancing with their mother; to go meet their son and act like the son’s father for a day; to read a letter out loud to a dying relative in the hospital…
I am not allowed into the women’s jail anymore. I must say I was relieved when that happened. The woman’s jail is even harder to take than the men’s, believe it or not, so damn depressing. You know, by law all children under six must stay in jail with their mothers, so there are six year old kids that were born in jail and do not know the outside world. And of course this unnaturally strong bond forms between them because of the conditions, and then suddenly, also law takes them taken away from their mothers the day after they turn seven. Imagine what that is like for both of them. Then there are so many women that have not received visitors in the last ten years. I also read a statistic recently: from the 1,500 women in Santa Martha only 79 women have outside partners that signed up for conjugal visiting rights. Shit. You know, the thing is that when men get put into jail they become like children for their families; when women get put into jail they become phantoms: they are denied, and then forgotten. The social stigma is a lot worse for them. So they usually become really hard, aggressive and tough in jail. They have to. It must be hell to be forgotten by the outside world, it leaves you nothing to dream with.
That is probably why the men usually ask for favors related to their friends and family, whereas women usually ask for favors dealing with faith, like asking me to crawl on my knees inside the Basilica de Guadalupe to do penance on their behalf and pray for them, or to go leave flowers at the Santa Muerte´s altar, things like that, mostly religious. It is as if they were looking for hope beyond the human realm, because the human realm is no longer felt within their reach.
And art—as the modification of life through acts and symbols–can change things, it can. I have seen it. Acts can change one. One can change one’s world. And others world’s too if even just one tiny bit. And we can steal back our own time in small ways, and make it subjective again. Sometimes. But one must occasionally think like a thief.
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