Part 2: Olivia calls the family (Read Part 1)
Last week, Olivia, our project coordinator, received the list of teenagers in the detention centers in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua who do not receive visitors because their families are too poor. Sixteen children’s names, some with home addresses, some with phone numbers for their parents, some with neither. Olivia started the next phase of our Family Reunification project – to help parents who cannot afford it, travel to the detention center and visit their children on visiting day.
Armed with our new list of 16 teenagers, we started to layout a route for us and our partners in Chihuahua state to reach as many families as possible in the various cities and towns represented. Chihuahua is the largest state by area in Mexico, about the size of Colorado. With just two detention centers in the largest cities, there are a large number of families that live anywhere from two to nine hours away from where their children are imprisoned. As Olivia coordinated transportation, one family on the list stood out. A phone number was listed but not an address.
Before Olivia called this family, we agreed that we would do whatever we could to make sure we could get them transportation so as not to give them the expectation of seeing their son, then only to tell them we could not. So Olivia dialed her cell phone.
“To make contact with the first Family was such an emotional and moving moment.” Olivia said. She called and a woman answered. At first Olivia thought she was the mother. She listened with great attention to Olivia’s description of our project. “Ok,” she responded, “I’m his sister, but my mother will be the one to go.” Olivia told her that both her and her mother could come, up to three visitors are allowed. “Seriously? We can both go? You are going to come and take us and then bring us back to our home three hours away?” “Yes,” Olivia assured her. She could not believe it. Olivia continued to explain the rules for visits to detention and the logistics. “But seriously,” the sister asked again “we can both go?” “Yes,” Olivia told her again.
“I could perceive great joy and excitement… just to consider the possibility to see her brother,” Olivia said. “I didn’t realize how important this really is.”
The sister was so grateful, so excited, her voice was breaking. Until that moment her family has just been a name on a list of 16. We’ve never met her or her brother. We don’t know their history. We just know her voice. Her love for her brother. And it motivates us to make this project a reality.
Before Olivia hung up, the sister thanked Olivia repeatedly. The she asked, “how often will you be able to help us see our brother?” Olivia had to tell her the truth “we don’t know, for now it is just this one time.”
Documenting Family Reunification will allow us to promote the idea of providing transportation for poor families to visit their teens in prison in Chihuahua state and across Mexico. With enough support from local organizations, governments and you, these families can continue to visit their children in prison.