It’s a perfect rainy day in my hometown of Newcastle, Australia, and Joel is on my mind…
He lives in downtown Tijuana, Mexico right near the San Diego border. We were two people from two entirely different worlds, but somehow he still trusted me with what he had to say. He had a lifetime of experience and my life at twenty-four had only just begun.
His home was nothing more than scrap wood and some tarp to protect against the cold bitter winter rain, which had turned most of the streets to small rivers. He came out to greet me and helped me pick up rubbish around the square at Zona Notre. We took our opportunity to give him some soup and he began to tell us about his life.
Prison for seventeen years had consumed the majority of his life. Even through problems with drugs and being in and out of prison he had still managed to fall in love, marry and have children. His wife and children remain in the United States now.
He spent most of his life in the States and after being released from prison he was deported to Mexico. He struggles as he can not speak much Spanish. He explains to me that on this particular day there are not as many people around because the policia had been by and taken many people in. There at the square, in the middle on Tijuana, people normally come from all over for hot soup and it was so unusual to see so few people. Everything seems so grey in the rain, even Joel’s jacket, a dull navy reflects the day. Today, Joel had money from his wife to pay off the police, not everyone in the square is that lucky. The police have the power to plant drugs on you if you can not give them reason enough to leave you alone.
He rubs his balding head, his face twitches as he continues to share about life after prison. His moustache is one most boys would dream of. Now, being on the street, he shares with me that he is happy to be outdoors. Being institutionalized for such a long time had left him desperate for free air and open spaces. He clings to his new found freedom and free will. Still he struggles with drugs, they tie him to the street.
His appearance touches my heart, his frankness and vulnerability to share with strangers speaks to my spirit. I wish I could be this unashamed and honest about the things I struggle with day to day. To be available to share life experience with people has more value than we care to realize. Think about Joel, then think about his situation, and then think about your own.