By Diana Paz Garcia
This summer I had the opportunity to visit a prison, a military sergeant school and a state-center of high security. The first one was during this program, and the two last were in Mexico. I have to admit that before every one of these trips I was consistently nervous, skeptical and to be completely honest, a little scared. Although all three of these institutions belong to the State, there are systems that we keep apart from the populous and the common life. We never immediately think of them when we conceptualize the image of a Nation, we tend to omit them or think of them under a “us vs. them” dynamic. In Mexico, the military and the prison are institutions that are mostly mentioned in a negative context. As Mexicans, we are taught to be skeptical about our institutions and security forces. The military is not glorified like in the US; there is a gap between civilians and the army. Plus, due to historical events as well as the “recent” militarization of the country, people often fear the military and perceive them as a threat to their daily life. When it comes to our security facilities, we are oblivious about the way they function and their operations. We regularly omit their victories and focus exclusively on increasing crime rates. The omnipresence of violence makes us blind to their work. Then, when it comes to prisons, we are aware of their existence, yet it seems that we try to do everything possible to eliminate the thought of it – for what I have observed, it seems to be the same situation in the US.
Nevertheless, as pointed out by Julie we have a moral obligation to understand these systems; we are participants of them as well as we are paying for them. We cannot ignore their presence because they belong to the social fabric that constitutes our nation-states, they are part of the social contract we have signed off on and they are as key participants of our society as the rest of us. Thus, the visits to these three different facilities opened my eyes; going into them, I was ready to confirm my beliefs that these institutions were flawed and harmful. However, to my surprise, I was proven wrong. Yes, all of them still have fundamental defects and I still disagree with some of their core principles. However, by interacting with them I was exposed to another side of their narrative that is usually ignored by the media and our general vision from the outside. All three of them are working – under their perspective – to make the country safer, fairer and better. As well as they are all constituted by humans. Oftentimes when we look at institutions we perceive them as a faceless anonymous mass, yet we forget that they are conformed by people; a nice guard in the prison, a brilliant sergeant and a passionate 911 operator. Interacting with them broke the glass wall for me, it returned them their humanity – to my eyes- and in their own ways, they inspired me for a better future.
Now, beyond understanding each other, I believe that there is an urgent need for collaboration. We – military, the justice system, civil society, civilians, etc. – strive and work towards the same objective: peace. Yet we do it individually, from our own trenches and almost competitively. I think that in order to achieve sustainable peace a collective and collaborative effort is imperative.