“You can judge a society by how well it treats its prisoners.”

Yesterday, we visited a prisoner camp. I didn't know how I would react. A couple days prior, seeing the memorials of all those killed and now standing in front of the killers. It was a little to surreal; while standing in front of them, all i could think is, "they look like every other Rwandan" The fact that they were prisoners didn't make them look any different. Understanding how sympathetic they were to their crimes was refreshing to see, they apologized to the victims' families. They explained how pressured they felt by the government, they felt that killing was their only option to save themselves.

 

What hit me and made me get a emotional was when Lily shared, that her dad was in prison and he took his own life because he didn't want to go back. And in that moment, I realized how messed up and awful America's prison system is. We have  built a system off dehumanizing, overcriminalization, and belittlement. We put our prisoners behind bars to strip them of their worth, make them feel invaluable and hopeless. Yet in Rwanda, their system is built off justice, rehabilitation and bettering the person and the community.  I have several family members in prison and I thought if they were in a Rwandan prison, they'd feel like they have their freedom back, just by being able to go outdoors, walk amongst free people and visit their families. That little bit of freedom can help so much, mentally.

Prison not a form of extreme punishment for Rwandans. For them, it's to say, "this is what you did wrong and  we'll help you be better. Not "you did something wrong, so you're going to be caged and miserable for the rest of your life." We informed the prisoners how our prison system is and they said why is it like that and we couldn't answer. Do we know why our system is so corrupt and why can't we help our prisoners be better people instead of of treating then like animals in a circus. Its something we have normalized but visiting Rwanda has made me realized things don't have to work the way they always have. 

Drew asked one of the prisoners, "what is your view of America?" 

They responded with, "powerful. No one is poor, not even one person.", And it had me thinking, what false information are they being fed about America and what false information are we being fed about other countries. Growing up, we know what the education wants us to know, so we're often blinded by this painted picture. And America has painted a pretty good picture of power and wealth and masked over the poverty, racism and sexism and all the inequalities that exist.

 

In America, we focus on ourselves too much. When one has a lot, we want more. In Rwanda, when one has a lot, they share with those who don't. Perhaps we should all have a little Rwandan in us.