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My first SALT visit in a prison -in Guyana

“Maybe it is best to have no expectations”, I was thinking by myself. My first SALT visit in a prison. And not just a prison. A prison in Georgetown, Guyana and on the agenda was facilitation of self-assessment on AIDS Competence. I have to admit that I was excited.

The facilitators of Guyana Competence had prepared the visit very well. Lorna Harry, working for the Ministry of Home Affairs knows the inmates for a while now. Some weeks ago, the team facilitated a fascinating session on dream building.

I entered the slightly rusted gate that opened with a sound. We were welcomed by the guards and strict-looking director. Paula, Autry, Lorna, Aleta, Michael and I were waiting in the wooden room. Only 6 people were allowed to visit. One by one the inmates came walking up the stairs and entered the room. I could feel an awkward energy. I tried to make some eye contact, but all the men quickly looked away. This was going to be interesting….

Autry took the lead. With 2 jokes on the spot, he got the ‘boys’ laughing. Paula introduced two energizers. Paula is the best energizer-facilitator I have seen in my global experience. See some evidence here at another visit. Autry explained clearly that to achieve the dream they came up with last time, we need to know where we are and how to progress. We need to know the road we’ll take.

Autry handed out the A4 sheets with a blank self-assessment framework and started with the 1st practice:
Acknowledge & Recognition. To what extent do we acknowledge that HIV is an issue for us? A long discussion followed with most of the inmates participating and sharing their thoughts. One guy shared how he recently lost his brother because of AIDS. We as facilitators were impressed by the level of knowledge on HIV within the group. Especially one inmate seemed to have done a lot of research on it and even knew the latest developments. He shared this all for the first time with his peers.

Then Inclusion followed. “Yes, we’re level 5” said one. A HIV+ inmate took the word, disclosed once more in the group and says he’s doing OK in the prison. “But we don’t drink from the same glass” said another one. Another interesting discussion and they decided they were level 3. The discussion went on for about 4 hours to cover 8 out of 10 practices. Autry and Michael did a great job making the practices understandable for the inmates. Lorna, the host, has built a great relationship of trust with the inmates and created the right environment for the visit to happen. Paula showed excellent energizers and background information on some of the local realities
I had no clue about. Aleta shared her experience and jumped in with clarifications when necessary. A real SALT team.

After lunch, it was time for action planning. Autry introduced it well and many thought of individual – and some collective-action they could take. “Here, I am not so vulnerable, it’s the day I’ll leave those gates, that I’ll become vulnerable again with all the temptations. I know that alcohol puts me at risk. I’ll stay away from liquor when I leave this place or drink with moderation once a week”. Another inmate said: “I want to work on Learning & Transfer, like you guys are doing here today. Once we come out, we can start sharing with other groups and become new cells of the transfer. I’ll start with my family”. Other inmates shared some individual actions. Collective action was a challenge in a place where people come and go all the time.

We closed down the visit. I shared my personal learning from the inmates. At first they looked surprised, but then content. “When are you coming back”? was the obvious question to the team. Lorna through her Ministry has integrated SALT in her work. So all logistics are covered and regular visits already planned to further refine the action plans and support them in their local response.

A to-the-point AAR rounded up an excellent and one of my most memorable SALT visits.

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Comment by Rituu B. Nanda on October 10, 2010 at 11:57am
Dear Gaston,

Thanks for this fantastic blog. Clearly shows how SALT is relevant in different context and across different settings. These experiences make me proud to be associated with the Constellation.

Were the prison officials involved in the SALT visits and self assessment?

Comment by Laurence Gilliot on October 7, 2010 at 7:23am
Wonderful blog. I know that in DRC, the team in Kananga is also working with the prison. Prisoners did their self-assessment and ask to get tested. 400 people came for testing on the appointed date but only 150 get tested because of a lack of testing available.

Well done!


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