A picture is worth a thousand words, right? This one is worth more than that to me. I am still processing it, but when I see this photo, I remember the surreal week I just experienced in Uganda. Without this photo, it is hard to believe I was actually there. The day after I returned, my still-packed bags looked the same as the day I left. So I could pretty easily have been convinced that I never went. It only took me a day to physically unpack, but I am still mentally unpacking. I wanted to share this photo with my family and friends to help explain my experience. But now as I look at the photo, it seems to ask more questions than it answers. What’s with all the barbed wire? Why the Uganda soccer jerseys? Is that a trophy?
This photo was taken at the end of our last day of a week-long prison project. Our team of American lawyers and law students and Ugandan lawyers and law students, plus a couple of helpers like me, went into three different high security adult prisons to try to help speed up the justice process through plea bargaining. Over one hundred men and women who had been awaiting trial were interviewed. Many were able to receive their sentence, bringing them hope because now they know when they will be released. So that explains the barbed wire. What about the jerseys and trophy? These are from the “2016 Prison World Cup” that some of our team competed in against the prison soccer team. For many it was the highlight of the week! In the end, the final score was 1 – 0 and team USA received the trophy that had been made by the prisoners, and team Uganda received a cow and three goats that will provide a meat dinner to the prisoners who usually only have meat on Christmas day.
The highlight of my trip was getting to spend a week with Jim during his month in Uganda. I was glad I could come and help him in his work. My role was not defined until I arrived and figured out what was needed. I quickly became the den mother as the oldest woman on the team. My time was spent making copies of documents, organizing files, providing sunscreen and snacks, handing out toilet paper and hand sanitizer, giving hugs and tissues for the tears, bandaging boo-boos, and dispensing medication to those hit by the Africraps. I was happy to provide support to our hard-working team. Every now and then, I would look up from my make shift desk in the middle of the prison yard and realize that I was surrounded by over a thousand prisoners, some of whom were chopping wood with axes, but I had no fear. Until you walk into a Ugandan prison, this won’t make sense.
It was an emotional week of highs and lows, long work days and long car rides, and team bonding. When you are thrown into a week like this, you become fast friends. Whether I had known a member of the team for 25 years or five days, it felt like we had always known each other. I can’t imagine spending the week with any other group. I will forever be grateful for the experience.