Thursday, October 20, 2011

Things Are Going to Be All Right

On Saturday last children who never dreamed of going to a jail visited their father.  My scheme worked and the two, Denis and Astrid, readily agreed to go with their previously unknown "step-mother," her sister and their half-sister.  The ride was very quiet needless to say.  The jail is in the middle of nowhere down a long and treacherous dirt road.  I felt physically ill at the sight of the grim, gray place and struggled to understand how it would feel to be confined there.  Vinicio, the driver, was clearly uncomfortable and more so when I got out of the car to help unload the bags of food, water, newspapers.  He told me it was a very dangerous place.  Jackie said "cuidado." Vinicio and I left fairly quickly leaving the group to stand in line for 3 or more hours in order to spend two hours with Alex.

Only time will tell whether Alex has actually learned anything or whether he remains caught up in his own, really quite stellar, performance.  If he has learned anything it may be a bit too late.  The children report that he has been to confession for the first time in his adult life (no reports on how many days it took for him to empty his conscience) and then attended mass and took communion.  While not wanting offend any believers I remain skeptical of this path as it only seems to give some  permission to do it all over again. 

Yet another letter from Alex describes his being overwhelmed with emotion seeing his older children enter the jail with "mi esposa" as he refers to the mother of his two youngest children.  All the reports indicate that it was a good encounter for all.  Denis and Jackie got to see and talk to their father for the first time since he was arrested.  Perhaps more importantly they seem to appreciate the trumped up meeting of their father's second "esposa" and, Marielos reports that Jackie entertained little Michelle the entire day.  Even Estela seemed to get over her anger in about 15 minutes.  Alex had gifts that he had made in a workshop where the  "residents" learn how to make gift items for family members out of empty chip bags.  I suppose it is a good thing that they are being entertained on some level.  

Denis and his mother ordering school uniforms.

With or without (more likely) Alex, life will go on.  Denis and Astrid went to their new school for uniform fittings.  They are very excited about the opportunities that the Antigua International School ( will give them.  Late yesterday I attended a Dr. Seuss production of the "Cat in the Hat" for the school year end at Christopher and Michelle's pre-school. Marielos and her sister coveted the printed "diplomas" that each child received as neither one was able to go to school past the second grade.

Life in the market was never like this.

Michelle "graduates"at 3 from pre-school but forgets
her diploma.

Estela reports that Denis and Jackie want to go again to see their father.  I trust that they have figured out that they can meet up with Marielos and her sister and gain access to the jail with them as the sponsoring adults.  Alex has shown interest in my idea that he should write his life story in his leisure time.  He does seem to have access to paper and pen which is considered an unnecessary luxury in most poor homes.  I have promised him "fame and fortune" if he writes it all down.  I am quite certain that if he stars in his own life story that he will win an Oscar for his acting ability.

Yesterday as I was walking towards an ATM I saw a taxi then heard someone say "Hola, Tia Joan." It was one of Alex's friends, one who had been on last year's soccer team.  He gave me a lift to the ATM and questioned like all the rest of us how Alex could have been so stupid.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Letters from Jail

Today I received my second letter from Alex by way of Marielos.  As in the first he talks little about his predicament other than "excuse me for that which has happened."  Spanish speakers, even in jail, are ever so much more polite than gringos.  Surprisingly, he reminisces about places that we have been to before when he was a paid driver.  The restaurant by the lake in Panajachel, the boat ride (his first) on Lake Atitlan.  The times when I was angry with him (often) and the times that I gave him a hug.  In this latest letter he talks about how much he misses his children.  Tomorrow I am sending Estela's two oldest to the jail with Marielos and hope that I will survive Estela's wrath.  I told her today that the children need to see their father to decide how they are going to see him going forward.  I had hoped that my new driver,Vinicio, would be able to accompany Denis and Jackie but he has another commitment.  They are not allowed in without an adult.  In the morning I will explain to them that Vinicio cannot stay so I asked Marielos to go with them.  And I hope it works.  I think the presence of little Michelle will warm everyone up.

Estela and I had a good talk today.  She told me about an incident a couple of months ago when Jackie was unable to go to school for two weeks as there had been a threat against the director of the school.  When she returned to school Jackie was told not to wear her uniform for a period of time.  Estela asked me if things were the same in the US.  I told her that, never before in my life, had I known a person in jail.  I explained to her that (for the most part) the police were respected and that people tried to do the right thing and always tell the truth.  She was surprised to find out that people seldom got away with doing bad things to other people, that most people behaved and respected other people's rights.

I guess only time will tell whether Alex has really learned anything or not.  If he gets out there is nothing out there for him.  No job.  No car.  Nobody who is going to help him.  Perhaps he is better off where he is.  There is a roof ... just a roof.  He has to buy his food.  He has no money.  He has to buy clean water.  He has no money.  He has to pay three times the going rate to make a phone call to ask for food, water, clothes, shoes and money.  Marielos has no money.  Estela has no money.  Estela wouldn't give him any if she did have money.  Marielos gives him what she has and then her kids miss school because she doesn't have bus fare.  Where will it all end?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Between a Rock and a Very Hard Place

Yesterday was Estela's day to visit the attorney and the attorney reports that Alex knows a lot about a lot and that he seems willing to sing to get out of jail.  And of course the jailers are willing to put others at risk in order to get the goods on a whole lot of bad guys including one case that goes back to 1994.  The attorney warned Estela that she and her children could be at risk as, if Alex does sing to gain his freedom, there are those who are likely to seek revenge.  Nice, huh?  Guatemalan justice.  I suppose the same thing happens in the US but I doubt if there is a witness protection plan available to Alex and all of his families.  The attorney reports that Alex is severely depressed which isn't surprising given his options right now.  Too bad he never learned to think about consequences.  It seems that his options are to stay in jail or to risk something terrible happening to one of his kids.  I would be severely depressed too.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Mudslides and Jailbirds

Last week found me taking a break from the dramas of Bougainvillea Lane in favor of accompanying a Canadian journalist, David Mercer, to Honduras for the filming of video for the Riecken Foundation.  We visited villages only accessible by serious four-wheel drive vehicles, even horseback where the indigenous locals talked to us about how important books were to their communities.   We visited a remote rural kindergarten where the children have story hours given by Riecken volunteers.  In another community we participated in the delivery of the first books the community has ever received.

Delivering books to villages only
 accessible by horseback.
A leader of the community hopes that the arrival of books
will "open minds" in Carrizalon, Honduras. 

Nice place to film a video

Getting back from Honduras proved to be a bit challenging as heavy rains the night before our departure closed the main road at the border with a mudslide.  Gladly, our car to Guatemala was stranded on the other side of the mudslide so we had only to find transportation to the border and then walk over the mudslide with all of our paraphernalia to get to our car.

Muddy walk from Honduras to Guatemala
thanks to mudslide and truck full of bananas.

As for the "jailbird," Alex, he is still in there but apparently is facing greatly reduced charges involving his phone call demanding ransom.  He has a team of public defenders (three) who, I am told, are very interested in his case.  Perhaps, that level of interest has to do with all of the women and all of the children.  Marielos, mother of the younger two who ARE returning to school on Monday, met with the attorney the other day.  Estela is meeting with her on Tuesday.  I feel quite certain that the group of attorneys are having a good laugh about this fellow with no means whatsoever and all the women and children.  I wonder how many other women have meetings with the attorneys.  Yesterday I wrote a letter at the request of the attorney indicating that the three older children receive scholarships (from my Rotary Club not me, of course) for school. Apparently, they are trying to confirm Alex's claim that he is penniless.  I gave that letter to Estela who will deliver it to the attorney on Tuesday.  Late yesterday Marielos came by and she also needs a similar letter.  Denis saw his father for a few minutes last weekend but is playing in a band concert this weekend.  Marielos doesn't seem inclined to go (good for her) despite the fact that today is Dia del Nino and the jail is celebrating with a pinata for all of the children who show up. Apparently the lawyers are also looking for one more "letter of good character."  Marielos laughs.  So do I.