Continuing our daily Advent reflection series, Franciscan Missioner Jeff Sved reflects on how a relationship demonstrated an alternate approach to rehabilitative prison systems.

From the time I spent working in the US prison system, I learned that a choice is necessary. If I want to continue working in rehabilitative justice, I can help in one of two parts of the rehabilitation process: inside the prison or post-penitenciaria. Either/or. Both/and is impossible.

As much as I would’ve liked to stay in touch with my former students after their release, continuing constructive relationships that helped during their incarceration, those relationships had to come to a crashing halt due to restrictions on US prison volunteers just as they began the difficult period back in the “real world”.

Cochabamba prisons, however, have shown me a different model of rehabilitation. A model that respects and encourages the growth that comes from relationships.

Because of my experience in US prisons, I expected similar restrictions to apply to the prisons in Cochabamba. Especially as I began working with and getting to know the privados de libertad here, I dreaded the goodbyes, despite the joys of freedom, believing these relationships too would come to a crashing halt.

“The icon does not make clear which side of the fence Christ is on. Is he imprisoned or are we?” – —Br. Robert Lentz, OFM, September 11, 2002

One specific example is with Edwin, the delegado de trabajo in San Antonio Penal. As the delegate in charge of all the work groups (zapateria, carpenteria, artesania, sasteria, etc.) in San Antonio, we worked closely together during my first five months here, coordinating instructional workshops, materials, and most difficult, outside markets for the sale of the different products.

I fully expected a very definitive goodbye as he returned to his family in La Paz after finishing his sentence. It was a joyful shock to see him in the office of Pastoral Penitenciaria two days after saying that “final” goodbye. Now we can continue our friendship as we keep working together on the production and sale problems that limit those working within the prisons.

With Edwin, and hopefully with many others, relationships in Bolivia aren’t confined to only inside the prisons. As I continue working alongside those inside and outside of the prisons, I am filled with joy knowing that “another way” is possible, and, thankfully, that way allows relationships to continue to grow.

Time can only tell if my future will involve working inside or outside prisons in the US, but my experience so far in Cochabamba has led me to hope that maybe both will be an option.

Coming tomorrow: “Seeing the Gift” by Kate Ackert!