"You're consistently inconsistent" - Drew to me
The difference between how I felt before this prison compared to how I feel after it is striking.
I was scared, mad, hesitant, questioning, but I remained open. Having a conversation with Eve before the visit to the TIG Camp helped me to understand the camp a bit more but nothing compared to actually being there of course. When we go to genocide memorials, we feel as though the victims could have been any of us. Something that was interesting was that when we were at the prison camp we realized: those prisoners/perpetrators could have been any of us as well.
Perhaps it's that we were born in a different place, at a different time, and that we were educated differently. This idea carries into teaching - when you experience a rough time with a troubled student, you must remember the first sentence of this paragraph. This helps us to free ourselves from judgement and helps us with being empathetic and more importantly, opens us up to learn from people.
The first thing I noticed when we get off of our bus at the camp, was how beautiful and serene the landscape and setting was. The sun was casting such a surreal shadow into the hills as we were in the base of a valley. The air was more than fresh, cleansing the lungs, and you could hear cows mooing!
We approached the large group of prisoners (about 40 or so of them) as they were singing, clapping, and dancing. This instantly broke down walls and humanized these men for me and for many of us I'm sure. I was interested in trying to join in with them - some of us clapped and swayed, trying to apply some of the dance we learned at Inema.
With the dedicated and selfless help of our leaders and translators, Francoise and Eric, we spent a large amount of time asking each other questions. I learned so much from the men at the camp and I think we left an imprint on them too.
They shared with us that they envision America as a powerful, poverty free land. We shattered that dream a bit by explaining that we aren't as open about the truth as they are in Rwanda.
The topic of how different America's prison system is from that of Rwanda's came up and this was when I feel that we took a few moments to really teach the men about how different America really is. I felt personally effected by this part of the conversation because I knew I had a story to tell that was creeping up my throat since the moment we saw the camp.
Drew helped us to see that most of these men were Dads and Grandads, because he asked (through Eric) that they raise heir hand if they're Dads.
The connection was strengthened in my heart and in my brain...
I have had experiences visiting my dad and another relative in various prisons in New York State while I was growing up. When I hear the word prison, I think of barbed wire, men with guns and batons, bars, numbered men, clearing security to visit, and how limited your interaction is as a free citizen just visiting someone.
I knew I had to tell the story of my father to these men to truly let them in on how much our prison system can ware on man. With the help of Eric, I told the men at the TIG camp about how I wish my dad would have been given an opportunity like they've been given. Perhaps things would have worked out differently for him if our system wasn't so dehumanizing. Through my tears, I could see the men look up at Eric if they weren't already. I felt that they felt that pain with me and the entire group. I looked at the beautiful clouds while explaining the story to Eric and the men, and again, it was so balanced with dark and light. This was the first time I was telling my Dad's story - out loud - and for good, to help others. I know he was there with us and is thankful.
"We would like to come to America to tell the imprisoned killers about the forgiveness we've found within ourselves." - prisoners at TIG
After we went back and forth with more questions and answers, it was time for us to perform our play for the men.
I shared with the village that I wasn't sure how comfortable I would be with grabbing the hands of these men to sing and dance at the end of the play. However, I dropped the notion of 'me' and returned to the mindset of 'we'. By the end of the play, I found myself pumping up all of the men and grabbing their hands and wanted to continue dancing and singing for the rest of the day!!
It was really hard to understand my emotions at that point and how much my view of the men had change.
After our performance when we finished dancing and singing with the prisoners, I began to cry again, but this time it was because I didn't want to leave.
Here is when Drew shared with me - the first quote of this blog. He spoke through laughter, and I relied through my mixture of crying and laughter. We decided that this sort of place can have that effect on you.
The conversations we had on the bus on the way home, and the inward thinking I spent time doing were so gratifying. I can't wait to hug all of my loved ones.
I hope the world sees this and learns from the people, including ex-genocidaires in Rwanda. I hope that it will enlighten people to want to make changes after learning about the prison systems, just as it has done for me.