The Cáceres penitentiary center has recovered the scheduled outings of inmates, intended for second-grade inmates who have served a quarter of their sentence, which were interrupted by the outbreak of the pandemic.
The first expedition, made up of eight inmates, was destined a week ago for the Veterinary Faculty of the University of Extremadura (UEx), where the prisoners planted trees nearby and visited the center’s farm. This experience is part of a new program developed by the Penitentiary Ministry of the Diocese, which proposes environmental activities to persons deprived of their liberty once a month.
At the head of the initiative is Eliseo Ruano, delegate of the pastoral. He has been a prison volunteer for more than 30 years. Before the arrival of the coronavirus, outings of a cultural nature were scheduled with the inmates, he explains. The current project, he underlines, is aimed at favoring contact with nature. And it has the particularity, furthermore, that some inmates who until now had not enjoyed their ordinary permits participate, with which the exit on Saturday was their first contact with the street after spending years behind bars.
An intern hugs a sheep from the Veterinary farm.
“Some were hallucinating,” illustrates Nahum Álvarez, director of the Cáceres prison. Initiatives like this are of vital importance so that prisoners can recover their return to normality after being deprived of their liberty. “Reintegration must be gradual and not overnight,” says Álvarez.
The activity carried out with the Penitentiary Ministry is one of the axes on which the scheduled outings of the inmates are articulated. But these types of initiatives are also supported by other proposals. At the end of the month, a group of inmates will take part in a hiking march led by the Maestro Martín Cisneros Adult Education Center, which is developing an educational project in the prison.
The prison also plans to carry out another initiative that will consist of several inmates visiting institutes in the capital of Cáceres to share their experience with young people “on a preventive basis,” says Nahum Álvarez. This project, in fact, was going to be released in March 2020, but had to be canceled due to the pandemic.
«At first I was afraid but it has been one of the best experiences of my life»
Eliseo Ruano refers to these escapes as “therapeutic” outings because of the benefits they have for the inmates. «They spend six or seven hours with us that allow them to be out of jail. It is a very rich time for them. The project, which is born on a monthly basis, has the participation of volunteers from the ministry and a group of university students who have been involved in the proposal. “It’s important for people to stop watching movies and see people,” he says, referring to preconceptions about inmates. “I always say that in prison there are normal people who have had bad luck.”
The day of March 12 began with a walk from the prison to the Veterinary facilities. After an informal presentation, an awareness talk about the environment was held. And then the eight participating prisoners planted walnut trees. Later, they enjoyed a barbecue and a table talk. A visit to the faculty farm, a walk around the city and a mid-afternoon coffee put the finishing touch to a different afternoon that Nuria Aguilar will soon forget.
“Some inmates had not left since their entry into prison and were hallucinating”
“It has been one of the best experiences of my life. It filled me up a lot”, admits this 21-year-old Hispanic Philology student, who is part of the university group that participates in the project. “At first I was scared,” he admits. But a phrase that Eliseo said to them upon leaving the prison stuck in my mind: ‘From the door to the inside you are prisoners. But from the door to the outside we are all people’. As time went by, I completely forgot that I was a recluse,” she says. And she remembers, as an anecdote, that during the tour one of the participants admitted to her with laughter that she hadn’t set foot on the street for so many years that she had forgotten how to cross a pedestrian crossing regulated by traffic lights.
«They spend six or seven hours outside the jail; It is a very rich time for them»
The prison has selected twelve inmates, men and women, to participate in this project, who will alternate in the different calls. They all have one requirement in common: good conduct. During their therapeutic outings they do not carry any surveillance. For many it is their first contact with freedom.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.