Editor’s Note: The name of the individual involved has been changed.
During my first year in Bolivia, I was visiting a group of inmates in Hospital Viedma when I met Jose.
He had been sent from the prison to the hospital to receive treatment for TB and to prevent an outbreak in the prison. After a few weeks of treatment we were able to get him permission to transfer to a medical center run by las hermanas calcuttas, and with that his judge actually granted him a sort of medical parole.
At that point, he was free. I accompanied him from the hospital to the medical center outside the city, and during that taxi ride the most annoying song of the year took on new meaning. I’m sure everyone is familiar with Disney’s Frozen, and the song Let It Go that destroyed our ears for most of 2014.
Well in Spanish, the song became Libre Soy – I am free. In the car, I caught him singing along when it came on the radio (obviously I had to join in as well), but it was true. He was free… for the first time in years he was no longer inside a prison and was able to breath fresh air.
Now, whenever I see anything Frozen related, I think back to that car ride with Jose and seeing the joy on his face.
I stayed in touch with Jose for a few months after that; his lawyer never returned his Carnet (Bolivian ID card) and so I helped with his process of applying for a new one. In the months after leaving las calcuttas, he was doing well, and I hadn’t seen him for almost a year.
This past Monday, it took me a few seconds to recognize him when he called out to me in one of the prisons. I think it took me so long to recognize him because I didn’t want to recognize him, I didn’t want to acknowledge that he had been arrested again. That is a difficult part of working in prisons, the goodbyes may be tough… but the second hello is much tougher.
When I was volunteering as a teacher in a Delaware prison I unfortunately became accustomed to that second hello. I had a student that left during the middle of one semester and was back before the final. I knew quite a few people that left and returned within the year I was there… though that shouldn’t be terribly surprising; recidivism rates in the US are between 60% and 75% depending on the parameters of the study. Seeing Jose though, was my first experience of a second-time offender in Bolivia.
I don’t know if Jose will be working in one of the groups I regularly visit, or how often I’ll see him this time around. I am hopeful, however, that this second hello will lead to another goodbye and a continued chorus of Libre soy.
Featured image taken by Kate Ter Haar on flickr.