One afternoon, waiting for the bus, I walked over to the front doors of the Belize Central Prison to take a photograph of the wood carvings. A Caucasian woman was waiting on the visitor bench — the first Caucasian I had seen there. I suspect she is much younger than she looked; she had blue wool braided and woven into her blond hair and started to speak to me with the flat vowels of the Midwest as I was pointing my camera at the door.
What follows here is as close to verbatim as I could capture the conversation.
“It’s great that you appreciate the woodwork,” she said. “They all live with it all the time, so they don’t even notice it. My brother is in prison in the States in Minnesota and my husband is in prison here.”
“How long is he in for?” I asked.
“Maybe up to three years. Well, you know how nobody in this country claims their true identity until they absolutely need to? And see, he was applying for a passport and they ran his real name and found an old drug charge from 2008 and between Monday morning and Monday afternoon he was brought to the prison. But we’re hoping to appeal, because he wasn’t physically served, and I know the rules about that, because I’ve done lots of that kind of work. And he didn’t have any representation. So if his appeal goes through, he’ll only serve one year instead of three. I’m here today to pick up his baseball cap and shirt. I had the trip planned already, and there wasn’t any point in changing my plans because there wasn’t anything I could do for him by arriving a week earlier.
“My brother is going to parole soon but I don’t know if I am going to go up to receive him because he can’t parole to my house, because he paroled to my house last time, and you can’t parole to the same family home in 10 years. So he needs to go somewhere else, and he might have found someone else to receive him, but I don’t know if he can live there.”
“Why are you here?” she asked. I explained that we were teaching a course in the prison. I didn’t give a lot of details.
“I think the work you guys are doing is awesome, but I can’t do anything like that, because of this tatoo (a green shark on her neck), and when they see it they say I’m in a gang, and I say, yeah, a gang of one, but it’s a shark, and it’s above the collar, so I can’t teach in prison. It was supposed to be a larger tatoo, a small green shark with a larger pink shark curved around it but I had a horrible reaction to the green ink, it’s because of what they put in it, my neck swelled out to her (holding her hand about five inches from her neck, which was still well within the crown of her braids) and so I never had the other shark done. But I’m hoping to tutor some Belizeans in English, not to take away Belizean jobs, but American English, so they can compete for American jobs. I have an associate’s degree in sales and marketing so I’ve had all those English classes and such.”
At that point, the bus pulled up, and we boarded.
I never saw her again, and have no idea what happened to her husband. I do know she never receieved his baseball cap.
Below: Detail from the doors at the Belize
©2016 Teresa I. Sivilli. All rights reserved. No portion of this material may be reproduced or used in any manner without permission of the author.