In Mexico women inmates find education chance amid pandemic

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Women prisoners attend an online course on writing at the Santiaguito prison in Almoloya de Juarez, Mexico, Friday, Aug. 28, 2020, amid the new coronavirus pandemic. The inmates at the prison west of Mexico City have managed to benefit from pandemic lockdowns because the lockdowns have spurred a wave of professionals with time on their hands willing to donate their time giving online classes to inmates.(AP Photo/Diego Delgaldo)

ALMOLOYA DE JUAREZ – Prison inmates in Mexico have suffered from coronavirus infections at a higher rate than the country as a whole, and pandemic lockdowns have reduced their already limited contact with the outside world.

But one group of women inmates at a prison west of Mexico City have managed to benefit, as the lockdown spurred a wave of professionals with time on their hands to donate online classes.

With schools closed, Mexico as a whole is still struggling with learning-at-a-distance; the government decided to hold televised classes this year because not enough students had a computer and an internet connection.

But the women prisoners at the Santiaguito prison have found online learning has opened a new world to them; chefs, writers and other professionals who once might have had a hard time physically visiting the prison, with its complex security filters, now are increasingly giving online classes to inmates. The prison is located in Almoloya de Juárez, near a separate maximum-security men's facility where drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman escaped through a tunnel in 2015.

Tatiana Ortiz Monasterio, founded the non-profit group “Plan B” two years ago to bring a sewing workshop, a library and classes to inmates. But that first effort mainly resulted in a project to cut children's party decorations out of craft foam.

But with children's parties discouraged during the pandemic — and inmates finding they were out of sync with the outside world upon release — the project had to go to the next level. Fortunately, during the pandemic, a lot of busy professionals found themselves with time on their hands and a desire to help out — especially if that meant not having to travel or get into a high-risk area like a prison.

“The pandemic really helped us out, because it was a moment in which we could carry out this really big and distant idea we had,” said Ortiz Monasterio. “We somehow managed to get an internet room put in the prison, not just with a screen with internet, but a live connection.”

“We invite a writer, an actor, a chef, someone who can leave them something beautiful in the mind and in their heart, so they can be better people,” she said, noting “it goes to help reinforce or establish, more appropriately, the kind of education they may never have had.”