The other day I spoke with a very close friend of mine and for privacy purposes, she will remain anonymous. We were talking about her family back in Brazil and I asked her to show me some pictures. One of her brothers didn't have any sort of social networking whereas the rest of her family did. When I asked why, she responded "Well, he's in jail." I began to ask her more about it and our light conversation about family turned very serious. What horrified me the most is not why her brother is in jail but how the prisoners and especially the people who go to visit are treated. I knew that conditions in prisons in any impoverished country were probably not ideal, but I never expected to hear what she told me.
I asked her if she wouldn't mind if I interviewed her so that I could have a more official record of our conversation and I could use it to write something for DailyKos so we set up an interview for the next day and this is her story:
I asked her to give me some background on her family, she said,
"I have a very normal family. My mom is an architect and my dad is an economist.... I used to go to school like any normal kid. Hang out with my friends. Then everything changed."My friend is from a middle class family in Rio De Janeiro. She didn't come from the stereotypical idea of what a Brazilian prisoner's family would be. She didn't grow up in the slums, the favelas. She lived similarly to any American teenager. She went to a private school and hung out at the beach in her free time. She said that her parents
"studied all their life so that their kids could have whatever they want. My mom, she started to work when she was 13. They were always the best in their college, they had really high grades. And for me, I never had to go to these horrible places, you know?"She is a prime example of the result of the people in Brazil who truly fight against the hardships of their country. Sounds similar to the American dream doesn't it? A family who works hard to make their way up in the world despite difficulties to provide a better life for their children and, yet they still are subject to being affected by the corruption of the Brazilian justice system.
I went on to ask her about what exactly happened with her brother. She said that he was arrested for illegal possession of a gun. She explained to me that,
"It's almost not legal in Brazil to have a gun. Only cops, prosecutors to a crime and a judge since they are all in danger."I was surprised by this. I do understand that there are a lot of problems with violence in Brazil so maybe it is best that they are nearly illegal but at the same time for a man to not be able to have a gun to protect himself outside of his house in one of the most violent cities in the world, "the city of god", seems counterintuitive. I am not someone who advocates the use of guns in any sense but it still made me wonder. When I asked her if she thought it was necessary for a person in Brazil to carry a gun with them for protection she said,
"No, no but I used to carry a knife in my purse with me at all times. Is that normal here?... I'd rather fight than be abused."If someone from one of the nicer areas in Rio thinks it's dangerous enough to need to carry a knife around with her at all times, I think that there could be some justification for having a gun for protection.
I asked her what happened when her brother was arrested, she said,
"His daughter was born for like 2 weeks. He was talking to a friend about her. The cops arrived and started to shoot at him. He was without a gun so he couldn't even react. Then they handcuffed him and took him to his house. He gave them the gun. He went to the precinct to give his testimony, he and his wife. It was not a normal precinct. They had really aggressive cops. His wife was with the baby who was only two weeks old. They were there for 12 hours with the baby and weren't given any food and were not able to change the baby. And they make [his wife] sign papers that said he committed 3 crimes. In the condition she was in, she couldn't read them... She was very scared; she was with a baby with two weeks. They were very aggressive and so she just signed it."From there they were released and he was given a chance to defend himself. However, in Brazil it is totally acceptable for a lawyer to never even see the judge and go to court. Instead, my friend said that,
"The lawyer, he didn't talk to the judge. He just wrote a letter. And he got sentenced without proof of some of the crimes."The only crime that they had any proof of was gun possession but he was also charged with theft and a few other things. He was then sent to jail, to solitary confinement for 80 days. From there, he was transferred to a prison cell that was no larger than your average living room with over 30 men. The only thing in the cell besides the men was a single toilet in the corner. When I asked her if they had any beds she began to laugh and said,
"Oh no, in jail who needs beds?"And as far as showering,
"They could shower once a day and it's like 110 Fahrenheit. Imagine, 30 guys in one cell when it is that hot, showering once a day."
Criminals in Brazil are also separated into cells by the types of crimes that they commit.
"He was with the same guys who were child abusers. He got crazy there because he has two kids and he is a normal person. As a normal person, he hates people who do that."I didn't realize that criminals in the Brazilian jails were separated in such a way. When I asked her more about it, she said,
"In prisons, people get killed a lot by other prisoners... The drug dealers of different favelas can kill each other. It is like a war at all times. You know, isn't it like that here? Like, people are in different groups in the jail so they can survive. Drug dealers from the same place are in the same place so they can protect themselves. Child abusers don't survive in jail for the most part. I really think that it's the worst crime. But really I think they could kill them, like you know, inject them or something, because everyone knows that they will die in jail. They are monsters but they have families too. People die in jail. Like without their head. You know the Brazilian Fritzl? His head was cut off and his body was burned in jail. No one deserves to be tortured. You're not God, you know?"The overall worst part of the state of the justice system in Brazil in my opinion is really how horribly the families of the criminals are treated. They don't commit the crimes so why are they then punished as well? Such as, her brother's 2 week old baby who was taken to the precinct for 12 hours with no way to change his diaper and no food for her brother's wife. I asked her what it is like for a family member to go visit someone in jail, she said,
"We have to make a card, a visitor card. And... our clothes must be white. We have to wear flip flops. Before we enter, we have to take off our clothes. It doesn't matter if you have 6 years old or 70. You need to show that there is nothing on your body. And this is not the worst one. In [the prison] Bangu 2, people have to take off their clothes. And they need to be totally naked. I think it's more for girls, I'm not sure, but since guys cannot hide anything by their penis. The girls must lower themselves totally naked over a mirror so that they can check to see if they have drugs or something inside of the vagina. I know a girl. She was 15 and a virgin. Her dad was in jail... for 3 years... So, she was crying but she needed to see her dad to see if he was okay or not. She was crying and totally humiliated. Her dad didn't let her visit him anymore because he knew what happened."I was of course shocked and disgusted by this. I seriously couldn't believe that they would force visitors to get completely naked to make sure that they weren't sneaking anything into the jail, including 15 year old girls. I asked her if this discouraged her from seeing her brother and she said,
"I don't have to be in the mirror but I know its humiliating. I will see my brother, no matter what I have to do. His condition in jail is worse than, I can't even imagine. My mom is 55 years old and she has to do it. She has to stay naked in front of the cops. It is women for women and men for men. But even his son, who is 6 years old must do it too if he wants to visit his father."I asked her if before we had talked if she knew that people in America were not subjected to being searched totally naked before visiting someone in jail, she said,
"No, I thought it was the same here. For me, it's too normal. It's bad, it's humiliating but it's normal. I've known this for all my life."I went on to ask her about how the entire situation affected her family. She said that it's been really hard for her and everyone else. She began to explain that if she was in his position,
"I prefer to die, really. Even a year with a cell with 30 guys, I prefer to die. And imagine, being in a cell with child abusers. I really think that he didn't kill himself yet because of his family, his kids and my mom. Everyone loves my brother, really everyone. He gives things to poor people. Since he was little everyone likes him. He's so nice. I would kill myself 500 times to help my brother. I would do anything for him. It's seriously terrible to think he is in these conditions... You know, [my family is] really concerned about me saying this today. They think that I will be judged like I am a whore or something, like I have a terrible family. A part of the family doesn't know [about my brother being in jail] because we think that they will not understand. I don't really care [about talking about my brother] but they do so I respect them."Additionally, all of these nuances are horrible but on a broader scope, she also explained to me that in Brazil you can also pay any cop so that they don't arrest you. She didn't even realize that this wasn't an option in America. She said that,
"We can pay like 50 reais which is equal to about 30 dollars so that we don't get a ticket. Whatever they are charging you for. If you have money there, you will not go to jail. Like real money, if you are really rich you could kill whoever you want. You can do whatever you want."What I truly cannot seem to grasp is why I would not know about how horrible it is in other countries around the world unless I was truly seeking out information. Why aren't we taught in school about the hardships of the world? About social justice? The problems of our world are continuing because people aren't being taught about them, those who have the capacity and capability to help are usually blind to the problems outside of the small circle that encompasses the depth of their lives. Many of the people in impoverished countries don't realize that their system isn't universal, that there are other ways of handling justice. We need to be taught about the atrocities of the world early. If we don't learn about these things starting when they are young, how likely is it that we will be compelled to do learn or anything about it in the future?
Maybe it seems shocking that I, as a 17 year old girl, am talking about people being murdered in jails and young girls being sexually humiliated in order to visit family. But if I am truly too young, if I should really be sheltered from just hearing about this, then who's sheltering the people who have to actually experience it? Isn't it so much worse that a 6 year old boy must be stripped totally naked and sexually humiliated to see his father than for me to hear or talk about it? Is it so horrible that we shouldn't talk about this in schools? Because we should. We should be talking about it. We should be disgusted and horrified. We should be outraged. It is not right. So why shelter ourselves from it? We need to confront these atrocities if anything is ever going to change.
That is one of the major problems with America, we have battles over censorship and yet, we choose to censor ourselves every day. We don't want to see homeless people in the streets; we want to arrest them or push them into poorer areas. We fight against comprehensive sexual education so that our children can learn about abstinence only. We are given the version of Times magazine with a cover about "Why anxiety is good for you" instead of images of war and revolution. We watch the G rated animal cartoon movie called Rio, instead of the R rated movie City of God based on a true story of the drug wars in Rio. We do this because we don't want to face reality. If we don't see it, then it must not be our problem.
Well, I am sick of this attitude toward the world around us and I am determined to change that. We need a world in which we confront problems head on. Doesn't that sound like the most efficient way to handle things? Instead of selectively choosing who knows and confronts what, while keeping everyone blind, we confront problems as a whole. Certain things may be painful to handle but wouldn't that be better than letting the pain of people around the world to continue? Think to yourself. Would you rather be lied to or told a painful truth? That's how we should look at the world.
I will not stop writing and speaking out until there is nothing left to say. I will happily fight until I am an old woman, until hopefully what I do will still continue in the fight for justice even when I am dead. I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. You know, I think I just realized why I've been so drawn to foreign affairs and learning languages for my whole life. I thought that maybe it was a good direction for me since language learning and communication has always been natural for me. But maybe, beyond that, I'm really meant to change the world.