PARAGUAY, Cristi Santacruz •
Today while going through Twitter I read the affirmation of a graduate specialist in addiction prevention and treatment: “The closer the family is, the farther away the drug is”. A statement that rang loud in the ears, but louder in the heart. —
In 2016, when I started my apostolate of visiting every Saturday the Integral Educational Center of Itauguá and La Esperanza, for children and young people in conflict with the law, I heard hundreds of stories that have one factor in common: The family or the absence of one.
My neighbor is going to tell her
A few weeks ago I ran into Pepito, I noticed that he was taller, almost with a beard. The first time I saw him, he had just turned 14 years old, now, he is about to turn 18 and this is his fifth admission.
While we were talking, a lady who was leaving the Saturday visit passed by, he shouted at her and went over to talk to her, when he came back I asked him who she was and he told me that she was a neighbor. I asked him if his family had already come to visit him and he answered: “Now they are going to find out that I am here, my neighbor is going to tell them”.
When I asked him why he hadn’t spoken to his mother yet, he first evaded me and told me that he didn’t want to bother her, as I was insistent he told me that he really didn’t want her to find out, that she drinks and when she drinks, she gets violent and that was one of the reasons why he often ran away from home.
She spent most of his childhood in the streets, another part in an educational center.
Children and youth in poverty or extreme poverty
This is just one of the many stories we hear Saturday after Saturday, when in confidence they tell us what led them to use drugs and then, having to commit crimes to get more drugs.
Many of the cases are summarized in broken families, in the face of extreme poverty, mom and dad have to go out to work, family violence, parents with addictions, cases of abuse.
In almost all these cases we are talking about family problems or the absence of family, where the only refuge and containment they found were those “friends” who invited them to forget about their problems with drugs and therefore steal to continue getting high and escape from reality.
I do not know if I am close to the numbers, but I dare to say that 90% of the cases that I know and that arrive at the educational centers of Itauguá and La Esperanza are cases of children and young people in poverty or extreme poverty.
The great majority of them wait anxiously for us every Saturday, for many of them, we are the only visit they will receive during the week.
The visit is what they ask us to never miss
When we ask them if they already know when they are going out, most of them tell us that they have no idea, but they do know and are certain that every Saturday we will be there to share with them a little catechesis and something to eat, and according to what they tell us, it doesn’t matter if we don’t bring the snack, it is the visit that they ask us to never miss.
Undoubtedly, prison ministry is not an easy apostolate, but it is highly gratifying. Seeing those happy faces when we walk in, anxious to tell us, to share, to embrace us. Today we are that family that tries to listen to them, to contain them, to pamper them and many times also to scold them, maybe it is not relevant, it is just a weekly visit, but as I always say “for those who have nothing, a little is a lot” and many times we do not really measure how important is what we do and what we are seeding.
To continue with the youth prison visitation program, the team needs prayers (lots), capital of grace (lots too) and donations (a few not so few):
Original: Spanish 2022-05-06. Translated by: María Aragón, Monterrey, México