The last stop on my visit to Jordan was to a women’s jail on the outskirts of Amman. At the visitors security entrance, Omar, the friend who was accompanying me, was asked to remove his watch and sunglasses. Mine were also likely to be taken away, but I let them try them on and the young guard realized that without them I could hardly see. We reached the first waiting room on the other side of a long courtyard. The day was already summery.
We got through the umpteenth security checkpoint and submitted the paper with the name of the person we wanted to meet. Two young women were waiting for someone in the waiting room. Who are you waiting for, a sister…or a mother? There was also a man in his fifties with Arab features. He was fixing his ragged shoes as he also waited. My friend went to sit down, but the chair broke. Any other time and in any other place, everyone would have burst out laughing at such a sight. But there in that waiting room no one dared. They were all taken by their pain. The climate in that room was like the one you feel when you’re about to get some news from a doctor about a very sick friend. The scratchy voice over the loudspeaker and the way the old man jumped to his feet, made me realize that it was his turn.
Soon after it was ours. There was a narrow corridor. All the cells had a small window on the side with those classic old-fashioned telephones on each side of the pane. Our friend was unexpectedly joyful, gesticulating and quite excited to see us. She spoke into the receiver and let us know that we could ask to meet in another room, face-to-face. It was Easter Day and Christians were allowed to receive visitors.
We exited the facility and re-entered through the official entrance. We had to show our passports again, answer questions and the name of the person we wanted to see. We waited in a hall, helping out the employees to stuff documents in numbered files. It was a long wait. Perhaps for her it was also a long road, made of opening and closing doors. She finally arrived.
She could have been around forty years old, South American and quite jovial. “My cellmates will be so jealous!” She was a sweet person. She acknowledged she had made some mistakes. She would be released in a few months and was counting down the days on a calendar she had constructed. During her two years in jail, she had become a grandmother and hadn’t yet met her grandson. Her two oldest children have left school to work, and she doesn’t have a husband. “When I go back they’ll blame me, and it’s only right that they should be angry with me. I manage to hear from them on the phone once in a while. My wish was to open an orphanage for street children. Life is hard in here, at times I thought about ending to it all. You become bad. But I can’t; when they become angry or beat me, I stay calm. I just can’t bring myself to react. I have friends in here, some for many years. Fernanda’s been here for eight years, but she’ll be let out soon. She’s 29 years old and dying with a serious illness. She came in very young, for a more stupid offense than mine. She went and swallowed a few rolls of that junk. I thank God, in spite of it all. I feel He is close to me, and that’s why I feel privileged.”
We said goodbye with a hug, and it’s difficult to describe what I experienced at that moment. I wanted it to be a small way of taking on some of her suffering and pain. Perhaps on such a sunny day, at least a ray of His Love had shone through the prison bars and gray walls.
It’s a special Easter morning and I can’t but thank God for what he made me live: resurrection and true freedom. I met a free woman in jail, because she was so aware of God’s love for her.
(Ago Spolti, Italy)