Another Sunny Day at Lurigancho

I don't really dress up for work here in Lima, unless of course I'm going to jail. That's when the skirts & the sandals and the cute little purses are dusted off and put to use. be sure to choose light and airy clothing because the sun is always blazing where we're headed.

i live a strange, strange life.

i'm not kidding though. we went to visit our friends in prison yesterday and those are the rules. required dress is skirt & sandals (nothing all black), you can bring in almost anything barring alcohol, drugs, weapons, and your keys. so we get dressed up, buy lots of cookies, make a worksheet on prayer to give to the boys, ride the bus an hour and a half outside the city, drop our keys off with random woman selling snacks outside the jail and start the journey in. (note that should you find yourself at jail without skirt & sandals you would be able to rent from any one of the 50 booths set up outside for that very thing)

Lurigancho (the prison) may be the strangest place i have ever been in my entire life. once you finally pass through security (which resembles an amusement park line-- except for the part where they feel you up) two strange things happen: 1. you pass through a flower garden with a huge sign made out of stones in the grass which reads "Bienvenido" ("Welcome") and 2. the presence of any sort of security system all but disappears. there are no cells, just pavilions. official looking men can be spotted every now and again but even then their function is unclear. there are all sorts of people-- prisoners-- milling about selling trinkets, snacks and their services to carry your bag or help you find someone you're looking for.

a minute to explain: Lurigancho is the poor man's prison. sometimes they send people there for no reason at all, just to get them "off the streets". reform is an unknown concept and injustice is the watchword. if you don't have someone pushing for you on the outside your prison stay could be indefinite for no good reason at all. in this prison you work for food, to send money home, to get your papers pushed through. you jockey for position. you try to stay out of the rough pavilions. and you pray that you don't get on anyone's bad side. its a really loose system and though each person is assigned to a pavilion its pretty much a free for all. men accused of murder mingle with boys who stole a wallet to put food in their stomachs. if you don't have anyone watching your back its a pretty scary place. well, even if you do have someone watching your back its a pretty scary place.

so we're in, and the wandering begins. we know generally where the boys will be but since they can move pretty freely between pavilions and there isn't really an official list or someone in charge they could be anywhere.

we rely heavily on fame.

mostly Sarah's fame. i'm in by association. it amazes me everytime how willing people are to help the "hermanas" (sisters) as they call us. and usually within minutes of being there Sarah sees someone or someone sees Sarah and we're off. the first contact is crucial but then from there you can pretty much get all the information you need to find everyone else you want to see. the boys from Grau (the street where we meet) keep tabs on each other even if they weren't really friends on the outside and its a well known fact that news travels to and around Lurigancho like wildfire (ie, when the Langleys adopted Natalia they recieved numerous phone calls of congratulations from prison before any of us had even had the chance to visit and share the news). In short, being recognized as the sisters that visit the streets with milk and bread helps us get where we need to be more effectively than if Brad Pitt himself was requesting the visit.

so we go, wandering and greeting and standing to chat here, sitting to pray over there, searching for him up the stairs, just around the corner, down this hall. pavilion 2, then 4, then 11B, then 20. we won't make it to 21 today.

okay, maybe you don't want to know all the details. gosh, i'm not even scratching the surface.

the point is. i hate going to prison because its a terrible place. rambunctious boys become somber young men and tender hearts become quickly hardened. but i love going to prison because its important. some of the most resilient people, young men, i have ever met are still keeping hope alive in there. and to have the privilege to sit with them for a moment, give them the news that they haven't already heard, share a prayer, hear their dreams for when they're free again, to give them some bible verses & a worksheet (word searches are surprising treasures for passing time and exercising the brain) on what it means to pray & communicate with the God who hears, giggle about how i'm chubby or they're chubby, or just encourage them to "seguir adelante" ("keep pressing forward") is worth all the strangeness.

to see C smile so big.

to hear J thank us for coming.

to hug M and to tell him that even though he is so scared, he is not alone in there and to see his face light up at the prospect of a history book and a visit from Rae & Natalia (looks like we're going back next month :).

to listen as D and S talk of their daughters and how they want to do better by them.

to laugh with A (he IS chubbier) and celebrate that he'll be free in 4 months.

to hear about O's love of his jungle home and plans to beeline straight there upon release.

to say "yes, i remember you're here. i know its hard." and "yes, i will pray" and "we can't even begin to fill in the gaps for you but we know a Savior who never stops walking beside you".

thats why we come.

and the visiting hours pass, just like that. and so we said our goodbyes and left with sticky, sweaty, weakened bodies and heavy hearts. still, we left knowing we would go back. because no matter how terrible or strange, there is always that glimmer that proves that redemption is real and that maybe one visit, or hug, or word will be what God uses to keep the flame of hope alive. not to mention that it changes us. it challenges us. it adjusts my perspective. looking into the eyes of the oppressed and seeing their smiles humbles me in ways i cannot even begin to describe.

pray for our dear friends as the open their hearts to truth and as they continue to hope that there can and will be renewal for them. pray for us, that we would know more deeply what it means to be present to our friends. pray for justice in this city, there are people here who want things to change -- peruvians who desire something different for their country, for their people -- that they would have the courage to speak & that their voices would be heard.

thanks for listening (reading?) and praying, i know that was a lot. now, if you'll please excuse me, i need to go put on my holey jeans & t-shirt for work :).

love & peace be with you.