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Visiting Isidro in Jail

“Oh, CPT, the group that doesn’t believe in using guns,” remarked the jail guard. “Yes, I work for Christian Peacemaker Teams, and that is what we believe,” I said. “For forty years Colombia has been trying to resolve its conflicts with guns, and it doesn’t seem to be working.”

This conversation took place at the start of my visit to Isidro, the community leader of Micohumado (Mico), whose arrest I had witnessed the week before. My arrival at 9:30 am meant that I was fortunate to get in, since they stopped letting people in at 10:00. There was about an hour of checks by guards, including frisking and being sniffed by a dog for drugs, stamps on my arms, and finger printing.

Once in, I was directed to Isidro´s cell block #4. The door was unlocked and locked behind me, and immediately I found out it would not open again until sometime after 3 pm., when all visitors would leave. I was greeted warmly by Isidro. The next four hours I spent with Isidro, his uncle who he hadn’t seen in 19 years, and another inmate, Jose*, from the Mico area. In the small cell, about 8´x 8´, that he shared with another inmate, we ate a hearty meal of salad, soup, yucca, and meat together, with one spoon among us. To my surprise, there was a big mural of Che Guevara in the cell.

Jose has been in jail for a number of months and has no lawyer on the outside working his case, which means that the future is not very bright for him. I felt sorry for him.

Isidro said, "Of the 236 inmates on this cell block #4, about 100 were from guerrilla groups, and the rest were community leaders. There are no thieves or people with drug problems on this block. In order to be in this cell block I had to go through a 30 minute interview to see if the inmate community organization of the cell block would accept me. The cell block has rules like no stealing, and no verbal or physical abuse. People have to follow these rules or be disciplined, and they are very strict about their rules. In the five days I have been here I did not see any fights. We really learn to live together in good ways in this block."

There was a large outside area under a roof with tables where inmates were playing pool, chess, and just visiting. Two large inside rooms provided space for a library, for inmates to watch TV, for activities such as making a fishing net, and for worship services. Here there were large murals of guerrilla leaders. I asked Isidro if there is pressure for him to join the guerrilla group in the prison, and he said, "They have meetings, but they don´t pressure me to attend."

I was able to take in some books on nonviolence, including a New Testament, for Isidro. Isidro said, "I am very interested in this kind of reading and I have lots of time to read."

He shared, “Tell people it is not fun to be in here, but I am not demoralized. I have not done anything wrong, I am not a criminal, and I believe in the end God will work things out.” He added, “I was not tortured or treated badly in the arrest and questioning time. But I learned what they are accusing me of; one accusation was that I was driving a car for a shooting. The only thing that was true of their accusations was organizing my community to have a march for better roads and schools. There can´t be anything wrong with that."

According to Isidro, “What is happening is that they make guerrilla deserters accuse people of different things as a way of getting their sentence reduced. Also the government doesn´t like community leaders, because with strong leaders, communities may not follow exactly what the government wants them to do. So that is why they picked on me.”

He also mentioned several times, "Thanks so much for visiting me; it means a lot to me. CPT´s work is very important for the farmers of Mico. When I ask him what he grows on his farm he said, “I do not grow coca on my farm. I don’t really want to have anything to do with the stuff.”

I felt awkward at times, being a North American, spending four hours in a Colombian jail, with someone I had never met before. But Isidro seemed to sense it and with his warm hospitality I overcame most of my discomfort. He is a humble person.

He said, “My dad was killed for being a community leader, and I feel I need to try to continue his important work of working for the betterment of Mico.” Your prayer for Isidro would give him a boost.

Peace, Jim

Here I am in the mountains of Micohumado area. Behind me are the roofs of the town of La Plaza where Isidro lives. The trip to Mico was one of the roughest I have ever been on. It took two hours to go 20 miles.

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