Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A terrible waste of life

“I’ve got you in,” my friend Verna says to me as we begin the arduous entrance and security procedure, “but I can’t guarantee they’ll let you out.”

Clunk, clink. Heavy reinforced gates grinding along rails. Strange areas where doors behind need to be sealed before doors in front are opened. I can’t remember the last experience I had of being locked-in, the last sensation of imprisonment. I guess the nearest equivalent was on the aeroplane, but where was the promise of a distant land to numb the fear of those air-tight doors? Not here. More doors, more locks. At each regimented interval the security personnel were surprisingly courteous. Was that a smile? The only steely face was that of the last gatekeeper - a stern lady of very few words. An hour or so later, she too would be in tears and asking to be prayed for. I guess you dont need to be a prisoner to feel like theres no way out.

With a startling frequency, gleaming white vans with wailing police cars in tow speed up to the entrance and the tall gates are thrown wide to welcome more children into the State’s ever-open arms. This is a unit of Fundação CASA, the pretty-sounding name for the network of childrens prisons dotted in and around the city. A visit I had been wanting to make for several years, but had not had the chance until now.

The boys filed in, looking not unlike concentration camp dwellers with their uniformly shaven heads and matching navy tracksuits. Their clothing had the appearance of pajamas or some Government-issued onesie: a disconcerting scene at first (like when the bad guy in The Matrix multiplies himself a thousand times), but the PJs somehow disarmed them­ — like they were all ready for bed.

The faces were scarred, frowning, troubled. A disproportionate amount showed signs of mental disturbance.  All looked subdued. These were the boys you see on grainy CCTV footage nervously pointing guns in the faces of panicked check-out girls, who were caught dealing or stealing or...worse. A boy in the front row (who looked about 10 years old) perpetually scratched his leg, revealing a twisting contortion of an unfinished tattoo. 

As we prepared the seats, the dining room filled gradually until it reached capacity. 125 boys had chosen to come to hear a simple message of Easter, and while I tried to look relaxed, to give a warm smile as one or two looked up at me, it was difficult to betray the sadness in my eyes as I contemplated that these interns were just part of one unit in a complex of many units in a city of many complexes.

Author Frances Fyfield interviewed on Woman’s Hour
(BBC Radio 4, 11 December, 2012)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Into the lion's den! How your visit must stand out in their minds! How valuable are the words they heard from you. John 6:68 comes to mind, as you gave them (probably) the only words of hope they will hear this Easter.

Your prose is so evocative that I can feel something of the despair of these children and of your pain.

Keep it up! Apart from your obedience, this also fuels our prayers for you!


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