The visit at the prisons in Salinas would be one of the days I will never forget. In the morning we went to the Salinas Valley State Prison, at this place we did not have any interactions with the prison. I did not know what to do and I did not know how to feel. The differences between level I prison versus level IV prison were very obvious in my eyes. Inside the level IV prison, I can feel the intensity and a much less tranquil atmosphere around me as well as very visible racial divisions between the inmates. We spent our afternoon the day before with Julia Reynolds talking about Gangs of Salinas which I found really useful when we went see the real setting situation the day after. One thing that bothers me when we visited the State Prison was that we really were there just like a tourist, we listened to what the officer said, looked wherever he pointed for us to see. I personally felt very uncomfortable the whole time I was there.
However, this turns out really different when we went to the Correctional Training Facility. We got there a little bit late and went in a big room that was filled with inmates, one of them was standing at the podium. It was cleared that our arrival has interrupted whatever that was going on, it took us a while to sit ourselves down and then the presentation continued. They were presenting the project Common Ground; the inmate conducts survey in different areas of interest. Their presentations blew my mind away.
The majority of inmates are white.
The majority of the inmates grew up in a both parents household.
The majority of the inmates had a job that they stayed in for more than six months.
One value that they all think it is the most important, was love.
They completely broke the stereotype with just one powerful presentation.
After the presentation, we broke into groups. Everything happened pretty quickly, I was not prepared to work this closely to the inmate but at the same time I was excited to hear more from them.
“You can sit here, we don’t bite” was the first sentence one of the inmates told us, we obviously did not know what were we doing, we did not know where to sit. After I heard that, I moved over and sat next to him. Before they started their group activities, they asked who we were and what were we doing there, we explained and they told us about how nerve-wracking it was for them seeing us walking in. They did not know that we were coming in.
“You guys walked in, we didn’t know what was going on. My friend up there looked at me and I was like, I don’t know, so I signaled him to start his presentation over so you guys can hear. It’s scary.”
It sounds like they were not ready for our arrival. However, the inmate that was telling me this was sitting really close to me before we split into groups, I couldn’t help but observed him during the presentation. He looked so calm, he looked like it wasn’t a big deal for him that we came it. My observation was totally wrong according to what he told us later on. I was surprised on how he acted so differently from what he actually felt. I had such a good time with my group, it was very fun and they really made us feel the welcoming atmosphere. I felt a bit sad inside that we did not make them feel as welcoming when we first came into the room.
It was a day full of emotions. I learned so much during that short period of times we spend there and I wish we had more time, while they were leaving the room they waved us goodbye, some of the people from the group came and gave us handshakes, asking what our names were. They were telling us how important it was for them that we showed up. I still remember the exact sentence they told us. “it’s good that you came in. We got to practice saying things in front of real people, the people who doesn’t dress like us”
I wish nothing but the best for all the inmate with their working towards reentering the community.