A group of women, dressed in blue. Isolated from the outside world. And a little bird, free to fly out. Singer Anouk from The Netherlands once sang a strange song about birds. When I was in the prison for women, this song suddenly made sense.
As part of our activities, the women did a little performance. One of them carried a sign ‘HIV-infected’. Facing her with disgust, another woman took a step back and shivered. We all laughed about it. But in my heart, it made me cry. This time it was a performance, but outside prison it happens every day. Sometimes being yourself is wrong apparently.
Though the women seem happy when we visit them, their faces sometimes show something else. Some of the inmates are young, but look old and tired. Sometimes they smile, but seconds later they sadly stare at the sky. Their minds wander off, who knows what their futures will look like?
A small bird flew into the group and landed on the shoulder of a young woman. The woman told me proudly: “that’s our bird, we take care of it”. I watched how the bird flew to different women and made them smile for a while. It made me think of the song of Dutch singer Anouk. “Birds falling down the rooftops, out of the sky like raindrops. No air, no pride. That’s why birds don’t fly.” I never understood the lyrics, but now I do. When you have been a prisoner and you have HIV, you are considered amongst the lowest of Thai society. With no air and no pride, you are like a bird with one wing. Even your hope can turn into fear.
But hope is strong. And we come to prison to repair the other wing. We come to give back hope and dignity. We tell the women about their value, despite of their illness. We share God’s love and teach them self-confidence. And we hope that one day, when they are released from prison, they will spread out their wings and fly.