March 2018 | By Melissa Corona
I heard many things about the Prison Project before I went to Uganda. Because of this, I believed I knew exactly what was going to happen and what to expect. However, my experience exceeded all of my preconceived notions. When we first arrived at the prison in Jinja, I could not believe what I was seeing. One of the first things that stood out to me was the sight of prisoners walking around without handcuffs, and the guards were not even following them; they were just keeping an eye from afar. I could feel the trust the guards had in the prisoners, it was almost tangible.
When we started the plea bargaining process, the guards would bring the prisoners to our table without handcuffs. I could see that the prisoners did not take advantage of this. They were all very respectful of the guards and everyone around them. I realized through this experience that even though we went to Uganda to teach Ugandans how do to plea bargaining, we were the ones that were learning the most from this experience. I learned to see prisoners for more than the crimes they had committed. I learned to trust them and feel safe around them. I learned that compassion is easy to feel when you’re advocating for a victim and hard to feel when you are advocating for the perpetrator. However, we must feel compassion when it is hardest to feel. I also learned that even if people can do awful things, it does not mean they do not feel remorseful. In Western society we tend to demonize people that are guilty of crimes, instead of trying to rehabilitate them and understand them. Through the prison project, I was able to hear prisoners say how remorseful they felt and how they wanted to serve their time because they knew it was fair, but they also wanted to be back in society to be able to be good citizens. It is safe to say I came back from Uganda feeling hopeful for humanity and elated that this experience shattered all of my expectations.