LETTER FROM A TEACHER WRITING FROM PRISON
MESSAGE TO THE 5TH WORLD CONGRESS OF EDUCATION INTERNATIONAL
(Translated by Peter Lenny, a CSN volunteer translator)
Reclusión de Mujeres Buen Pastor women's prison – Bogota – Colombia.
25 July, 2007.
Dear Comrades, Men and Women Educators of Education International; Respected Colleagues of the United Kingdom National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) and the Australian National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU),
My warm and sincere greetings and thanks for nominating me for – and granting me – the 2007 Mary Hatwood Futrell Human and Trade Union Rights Award. The honour of receiving such a distinguished accolade overcomes cold prison bars, rusting padlocks and sordid walls.
The prison enclosure denominated Cell Nine in the women's prison was chosen under the Democratic Security Policies to give me a lesson in confinement. They accuse me of rebellion and, according to the government, its penal codes and prison laws, they want to resocialise me, because they say that, after twenty years as an educator, I am a danger to society.
I have been developing as a dangerous rebel since I was three, when I decided I was the teacher for my brothers and sisters and the other boys and girls in my rural district. It was my vocation, and I cultivated it with care and dedication. At secondary school, I relished Colombian, Latin American and Universal Literature – the classes and the homework. How the realities of social injustice are captured by literature in all its genres! And how controversy raged when we argued for Capital – Karl Marx's capital, not the capital of political interests that subjugate, trample, enslave, despise and mock the hunger of many for the power of the few! It was to meet my vocation that I entered university to study Education Sciences, and the feeling of that first day of class in front of the pupils, the beautiful reality of it: the hem of my dress trembling slightly and little drops of perspiration hidden in the blush of my cheeks.
In this corner of the prison, the government's intention is to make me live in leaden solitude, far from students and rural, indigenous and workers communities, to silence my voice, to isolate me so as to sap my strength, to condemn me to narrow routine, to submerge me in relentless oblivion, but neither they nor I knew that here I would find sweet serenity of thought: amid the cold of the walls, little by little I saw they were warming and trusting, hanging attentively on the words of my interminable monologues, and one day they too asked “Why are they keeping us prisoner? Why do they kill, massacre, disappear and displace us? Who do they intend to resocialise in the stagnant monotony and absurd sterile routine of hours and days?
All that life wasted in prisons! It's like a “valley of dry bones” scattered over the sterile land, longing in libertarian hope to live again; it's like the raging, mindless night when the storm destroys and lays waste to all it finds in its path, regardless of whether it's trees, people, dreams or ideals.
And when my steps head for the exit, they crash abruptly into orders to “return to your cell, release denied”. The bars stare back, ironic and sarcastic. I return and seek refuge in books, embroidery, the mixture blends of colour and the subtlety of words; with their warmth they submerge me in a strange, sublime weave of freedom, and interlace in the collection of letters I am reading: when a prisoner in a prison somewhere in the world was offered her freedom in exchange for doing things to favour of the interests of capitalist power, she replied: “They will set me free, because I have never lost my freedom”.
I have my freedom in honest, tireless, steadfast struggle for education, and for life with dignity for ordinary peoples, whose spirit swells as they give deeper meaning to Love of Life with Social Justice.
They have taken my body prisoner, but my soul is free and there are no chains on my spirit.
Infinite thanks for your solidarity and support.
Affectionately and fraternally,
María Raquel Castro Pérez
Address: Reclusión Nacional de Mujeres “El Buen Pastor” –
Cra. 47 #84 – 25 Bogotá – Colombia – Patio Siete.
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