We, at Dialogue in the Dark Monterrey, recently received an invitation from the state government. They requested a workshop in the dark for around 30 prisoners and asked us to build our black box inside the prison. As participants, they planned prisoners graduating from a 100-days drugs rehabilitation program inside the jail.
We accepted the challenge. However, some days before the workshop, the team and I were excited but also nervous. Prisons worldwide are never really peaceful places - but Mexican jails are especially dangerous spots. However, safety was not the only topic going through our minds. None of us had been in a prison before. None of us had ever worked with prisoners. A storm of prejudices and stereotypes clouded our minds.
Our job is to take our participants out of their comfort zone when they go into the dark and meet a blind person. But suddenly, we found ourselves being taken out of our own comfort zone with this kind of event. Our prejudices were trying to keep us “safe” in our comfort zone.
Currently, the city of Monterrey is going through a big social violence crisis. We – as society - are scared and hurt. Thus, our thoughts were reflecting our fears: Prisoners are bad persons, criminals, drug consumers, responsible for the violence in the city, indifferent to our workshops and social inclusion… and much more.
Fortunately, we are quite self-aware, so, the day before the event, we decided to stop the prejudice game. Not allowing yourself to get trapped by prejudices is what we usually teach our participants. So we decided to leave our fears at the entrance of the jail along with our mobile phones and wallets.
Our black box had been erected at the backyard of the jail. Our group of 4 blind facilitators was informed we would have to walk and cross the whole prison to get there. Imagine our surprise when, after 2 checkpoints, a small armored truck arrived and we were instructed to go in. It was the vehicle used to transport the prisoners. However, it was kind of a comfortable and we quickly rode to our workshop space.
By now, it was time to start the workshop - time to remember our values and stick to our philosophy. Our prejudices went out of the dark. It was time for us to remember that the dark is the platform where diverse people encounter. So, 4 teams of 9 participants each entered the darkness.
In summary? It was one of the best learnings and transformative experiences I have ever had. The prisoners, in contrast to our assumptions, were open and humble. They showed us their gratitude by saying we managed to inspire them to be better human beings. But actually, the same applied to us. We learned a lot from their hopefulness and endurance. I think it was the first workshop ever where I did not only shake all participants’ hands, but also received and gave lots of hugs.
Two marginalized groups – blind people and prisoners – encountered with no prejudices in the dark. Both groups found out they are transforming their reality every day to transform others around them – a truly bonding experience.
The workshop finished on a very emotional note when a prisoner spoke about labels. He said that even when he would be out of prison, he knows he would have to fight against the label that society will put on him.
I suddenly understood that these social labels often condemn people to marginalized lives. We as blind persons, are often labeled as unable, dependent or beggers. Prisoners are labeled as bad persons, maladjusted and criminals. The prejudice game hits everyone differently, but it hits. But this time, blind persons and prisoners got together to empower each other, and we rest assure that there are free persons who are more prisoners than those in jail, and sighted persons who can see less than the blind.