Margarita Tobar’s smile is kind and reassuring. For several years, her friendly face has been the hope that the men in Talca’s correctional facility seek to endure their sentences. Along with Brother Guido Gossens, Margarita provides companionship and shares the message of God with the men of the jailhouse. They built a small chapel on the premises, which is being furnished and decorated by the men. They made the benches on which we sat down in a circle to listen to their stories.
Victor used drugs most of his life. He ended up in prison for selling and possession but continued to get high in jail. He was angry all the time and got punished for violent behavior by the guards. One day, as he walked down the prison halls, he had a short conversation with Brother Guido. “I don’t remember exactly how he said it but he told me that I should channel my anger and do something positive. Something clicked that instant and not too long after that, I started to draw, sculpt and find ways to express myself through art,” he says while showing a beautiful rendition of Mary holding baby Jesus. One by one the men share their experiences and why they ended up in prison. We hear tells of parental abandonment, violence, poverty, bad influences, poor choices, bad decisions made in an instant without fear of the consequences. “We are alive but is like if we were dead. We are told when to eat, when to go to bed, we cannot make our own decisions,” says Juan Carlos.
A 23 year-old man sits quietly, observing and listening. He does not talk to the group, but he tells one of the Familia members that he has only been there for a week. He is scared. Yet, Ulises another inmate, has better news. After completing a series of self-improvement workshops and displaying good behavior for 23 months, he will be allowed to go out on Sunday. “It is a progressive program. I can go out for a few hours at first, then for a day and so on. I have four kids and a partner who has been with me for 29 years. My first priority is to look after them.”
The men sing and have a good time seated in the clam of the respite they receive inside the chapel. They look clean, shaven and healthy. The Familia members usually donate toiletries to the prison. “The men must look clean and shaven as per prison regulations,” explains Margarita. They all know her. As we say our goodbyes, Maggi Villena tells them “we are all equal. Thank you for your words and honesty.” The men leave recharged while the Familia members rejoice in the wonderful intimate moment we shared as people of God, no differences…just people.