Hello everyone! I’m Jenna, the other woman accompanying the young women in the juvenile detention center along with Maria. Due to the way my life is structured right now and my thousand commitments, I have not been able to write until now. However I am grateful to Maria for taking the time to share the powerful voices of these women, whose struggles and hopes would not leave the center walls without her hard work.
Today I will share two poems. The first is written by a 17-year old woman with an 8-year sentence. I have been writing with her for 4 months now, but last week when she wrote this poem, it was as if a light lit up in her eyes and she told me “shoot, so this is what poetry’s about?!” She began to write more creatively, using images to describe her feelings of hopelessness that she experiences given that she has been given such a long sentence.
As her poem says, the center, for her, is like a daycare where there are only other girls that have been in the street just like me.” In the center, the bedrooms are divided by gang, but the girls are otherwise mixed up until they go to bed. The laws of the gang still function inside of the center. If someone breaks one of the rules of the gang, he or she will likely be beaten by the other girls in the same gang. The author of “Not Even the Moon Accompanies Me” told me, “they [from the gang] know every time I shit,” in reference to the way the girls’ activities are monitored even while they’re locked up.
I think back to the discourse about rehabilitation and reinsertion into society and honestly I don’t know how we can achieve this in this high pressure, often hopeless environment that is still heavily influenced by the gang. What I know about restorative justice, such as the incorporation of communities in the integration of “offenders” (who have certainly been victims in given situations as well) into society, and the focus in healing personal wounds (not just those of the “broken” law), give me much more hope than the current penitentiary system. However, with the strong control that gangs and organized crime have in this country, there would have to be a courageous and multifaceted effort towards restorative justice in order to achieve any level of success.
Not Even the Moon Accompanies Me
They gave me 8 years in this daycare
where there are only girls that have been
in the streets just like me.
On one hand, I feel like I’m in the middle of shit
since we’re all together.
My mantra is together but not mixed up,
which has made me really depressed.
My solitude is like a star without the universe,
like the sun without fire,
like a fish in the middle of the ocean.
When I think about the 8 years,
I have strength to try to leave this place
but at the same time
it’s as if I were in the middle
of a storm and a tsunami.
The waves trap me
and I want to fight to get out
and stronger waves come
and I sink into the middle
of a desert without water.
I see the sun burning me
and my throat drying out
wanting a drop of freedom.
The psychologist says
that I can taste
this drop—this custodial visit—
within 2 and a half years
but I feel that it’s so far away
like the moon
that they don’t even let accompany me
in these long nights
I want to share a second poem with you written by a 22 year old girl who has spent 3 years incarcerated for a homicide that she did not commit. (Crime investigation is very minimal in El Salvador, so eye-witness accounts trump all). This author is an incredible woman. She is proud of her indigenous roots, she writes impactful poetry about the struggle and lived pain of her people, and she has a gift for helping those most in need. She wants to be given back her freedom so as to work for a feminist NGO in order to serve women in the poorest communities in El Salvador.
Today I received the awful news that her judge did not free her, as expected. Now, instead of beginning her life again outside of the center walls, she will fall back into the same depression from being locked up until they let her out in November. Having recognized the light and potential in this young, revolutionary woman, I am deeply saddened to know that the penitentiary system has snuffed out this woman’s, light, though all she wants is to get out and shine.
Even given these circumstances, however, she is capable of writing about gratefulness. She is one of my best professors. Every day that I go to the Center, sometimes filled with energy and sometimes dead tired, I anxiously anticipate the lessons from my professors that always await me. These women open their lives up to me with an incredible degree of vulnerability and share with me the lessons they have accumulated throughout their short lives, that have been packed with a surprising amount of pain, love, and wisdom.
This young teacher of mine teaches me to be grateful to Life, despite its many difficulties. If she can still be grateful, although she’s incarcerated, who am I to spend entire days complaining? *(As I write this refection, I’ve stumbled up on the song “There’s Hope” by India Arie… listen to it! It fits right in with this theme.)
How to be grateful
Many times we ask ourselves
but just waking up
is reason enough to be grateful.
We only know how to blame God
for our problems
but we forget to be grateful
for the life that despite all we lack
he gives to us.
he makes the sun
that with each one of its rays
shows us his love
that with each gust of wind
gives us a hug
that with every drop of rain
leaves a kiss on a sad face.
For this and more we have to show