Poor and in Prison

Mother and son

Mother and son

Rich families don’t have children in prison in Mexico. One prosecutor told us that in 12 years of working in the juvenile justice system, she has seen three teens that were middle-class. We certainly found this to be true every time we enter the prisons. Poverty is criminalized.

Just a mother and her son visiting and eating in the courtyard of the boy’s pretrial prison. Sometimes her husband comes too. In six months, she hasn’t missed a visiting day.

I enjoy visiting hours more than anything, the 17 year-old says.

During the week he keeps himself busy with activities – football, studying, baking class – better to be busy than have time to think.

Mother, son and friend join them

Mother, son and friend join them

A friend from his dormitory is eating with him and his mother. His friend’s mother could only visit for a few minutes today because of work. “Its fine,” he says, because he know “she is fine.” He’s 15, so he prefers to act like seeing his mother for five minutes a week is no big deal.

Juvenile prison in Mexico is hard. Economic pressures on families living in poverty makes juvenile prison even crueler. Many can’t visit every week, attending court hearings during the week is very difficult, and private attorneys are financially out of reach. In fact, many don’t even ask the court for bail because the family can’t afford the $5,000 pesos ($385 US). Rather, they stay in pretrial detention for up to a year awaiting trial. Missing court hearings means their children are not eligible for bail. It also makes it very unlikely that the court will apply an alternative sentence such as probation. The pressures even cause some parents to quit their jobs rather than forgo attending hearings or visiting days.

For those who never see their families on visiting days, they may be invited by a friend to join their family and share some food during visiting hours. Every minute outside their cells is a minute that feels more free.

I worry, but at the same time I am calm because I know my son is ok here… well treated and all, says his mother reassuring herself, knowing there is little she can do to speed up his release.

When I leave I am going to keep studying and working, live my life like it was. Or like it should have been, he says half to me and half to his mother.

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