VISITING OLGA IN DETENTION

NEWS FOR November 25, 2014

 

November 25, 2014

 

Dear Friends,

 

Today I had what was referred to as a chapel visit with about a dozen women in the Falfurrias Detention Center.  This pursuit began about two months ago when I first learned about Olga. (Olga had a baby who was taken from her at one day old and is now living with or near Olga's sister in Virginia).  In between getting adjusted to the South Texas Human Rights Center, I followed through with the requirements for visitation at the detention center.  At this point, all I am required to do is to call to let the guards know that I am coming, although times for visiting are limited.

 

The first thing I did upon my arrival at the STHRC office after my visit today was to schedule a visit with the women tomorrow.

 

I would love to insert pictures, but that is not possible.  I will do my best to describe my first visit.

 

Within the past year, I have been inside of three other prisons/jails/ detention centers.  This fourth experience was much like the other three except this time I was allowed to be with the 48 women being held in one of two such rooms for women in the Falfurrias Detention Center which holds over 622 persons.  It is a stark, clean, relatively new, as well as lonely place. 

 

The interaction that I witnessed between guards and residents was not disrespectful, if relatively non-existent.  I was escorted to the women's section at the rear of the Center.  We walked past a roofed but open outside partially shady and partially sunny fenced/barbed wired cement area where about 12 men were standing, walking, exercising, or bouncing a basketball toward one hoop.  I waited a few minutes at the entrance to the women's room while medicines were being dispensed, and the guards decided which of the 2 pods I would visit.  They actually gave me a choice, but I did not know which one to choose; I did not know which one Olga was being held in, visiting her being a chief goal of coming.  I deliberately put it into God's hands at that moment.

 

I had no idea what to expect when I walked in.  At first no one approached me, and I just moved forward slowly.  Then one women came toward me and said "Bienvenidos" (welcome).  I greeted her with a hug and asked her name.  You know it, it was Olga!

 

God kicked in with my best Spanish (as no one spoke English except for the guards), and we began to talk about her baby and about her lawyer, all the while holding hands.  Unconsciously, I sensed that the guard was standing very close to us but somewhat behind me and out of vision. Without thought I turned to the guard and asked kindly "Esta bien?" (is this okay)?  She said, "Yes, except that they usually did not allow persons to hold hands" (all in English).  So we dropped hands.  The guard never came close again.

 

Olga and I sat down close to one another and continued the conversation. Other women began to drift over.  I again welcomed each one with asking her name and giving her a warm hug.  Soon six of us stood and formed a circle holding hands as they wanted to pray.  I asked Olga to lead us in prayer.  Each of the women bowed her head, closed her eyes, and together we prayed the Our Father, and then each began to pray aloud quietly in her own words. Words of prayer were bathed in silent tears.  I have witnessed and participated in this kind of prayer multiple times among women and families while in Guatemala.  I have never been among persons of greater faith.  

 

After a time and after more women had joined the circle, I asked if we could sing a song.  The women agreed on a song and Olga started the singing.  Everyone knew the words.  It was loud singing with several verses.  I was not sure if we were going to be scolded either by the guard or by the other women most of whom were simply lying in their bunk beds.

 

Just at the end of the song, a guard entered the room and called for "la conta" (head count).  Everyone lined up against one of two walls in silence.  I was allowed to stay while each name was read aloud.  After responding, each woman was allowed to leave the wall and go back to whatever she was "not" doing.

 

Following this the women brought their Spanish Bibles to a large picnic table.  Eventually we had 14 women squished together on the benches. Our hearts were even closer.  God was yet closer.  Olga selected the first passage and Victoria who sat next to her read the passage aloud once everyone had found the place.  She selected the parable of Jesus forgiving the sins of the paralytic and then curing him so that he could walk.  The Word was powerful.  I then asked the women to share their words regarding the passage, what it meant to them.  Several shared.  We repeated this with two other equally moving passages, one from Revelations and one from Jeremiah, which Olga selected and others took turns proclaiming.  The Word was close to these women.  The sharing took place among smiles and tears.

 

In between I asked some questions.  I learned that those sitting with me today were all from Mexico, Honduras or Guatemala.  After that introduction, one of the women confirmed that we are all sisters, that color or country does not matter here.  Indeed, I could feel that.  I encouraged them to be Sister to one another.  I felt that in this place and at this moment, truly the Kingdom of God was alive like in no other.

 

I walked over to a shelf and noticed that there were about 10 books, but, as I suspected, all were in English.  No one could read them.  My goal for tomorrow is to bring in one book that is written in Spanish and to read aloud from it after we pray together....if I can get it through the door with me.  I have been told that I cannot bring anything.  There is one way to find out.

 

I asked the women if others visited them.  They said no one except for someone who sometimes came on Wednesdays.  It seemed that only for this chapel time could they sit in such a large group and share together.  I got the impression that grouping was not permitted.  For this brief time, they could hear their own voice, use their own voice, and know the comfort of one anther.

 

Ninety minutes after arriving and before leaving, we prayed together again holding hands, this time in words of gratitude to God.  I proceeded to stand up and to give each one a big hug before I left.  Many gave each other hugs as well.  I had a few words with one woman who appeared to be among the oldest in our small group.  I told her that she was Mama to many of the others here.  I thanked her for that and encouraged her to continue.  She cried.

 

Olga has been visiting with Thelma, the lawyer that Eddie found for her. The outcome of this is still in God's hands.  I found no anger in her, there was only hope.

 

Thank you for your support and prayers....especially for these women.

Sr. Pam

 

I am curious, which words of the Scriptures of words of Jesus came to your mind as you read this update today?  Share them.

 

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A child's drawing on the step outside the entrance of the Sacred Heart rescue center in McAllen
A child's drawing found on the step at the entrance to the Sacred Heart rescue center in McAllen, TX
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