On Tuesday, April 23 I had the opportunity to tag along with NET volunteers as well as volunteers outside of the NET on one of their bi-monthly visits to the Tarrant County Corrections Facility. Their visit to the prison was for their jail outreach program, which they complete on Mondays and Tuesdays every other week. During the outreach, volunteers who have completed the Purchased training, visit with women who have been imprisoned because of sex-trafficking related charges. Volunteers are able to speak with inmates for thirty minutes on connected pay-phones with a glass partition between them. Since I have not completed the Purchased training, I had to stay in the lobby with a NET volunteer with my other classmates while certified volunteers spoke. I did not have many expectations for this experience. I knew that we would be going to the prison and that we would not be able to physically interact with any inmates. However, in the lobby I was still able to see all of the comings and goings of the prison, which was very eye-opening. It prompted me to consider the feelings of someone visiting a prisoner and how daunting the visits must seem. It also prompted me to consider the feelings of the prisoners on visitation days, and how much they must look forward to seeing their friends and family.
While I have become more educated on human trafficking via this class, a lot of my original beliefs have remained the same. During both experiential learning opportunities, I tried to keep an open mind to see if any of my beliefs would change. I found that the jail outreach experience confused me on my original belief that these women are in jail due to something that is their fault.
Before visiting the prison, the volunteers in charge of the program told each other volunteer which woman in prison they would be visiting, as well as provided some background information on the woman. One woman began doing hard drugs at the age of thirteen and later became involved in stripping in order to seek revenge on an ex-boyfriend who was unfaithful. Due to a string of other circumstances, she is now in prison due to prostitution. I recognize that the way her life has gone is unfortunate, yet hearing this I felt and still do feel as though she is somewhat responsible for the consequences which she is facing.
Other volunteers were meeting with a woman who was just sentenced to twenty-five years in prison and was incredibly upset. I think that if I were to actually see these women in person and speak with them and hear their stories first hand, my opinions and beliefs would have more potential to change. I have always been a visual learner, and I think that if I could witness some of these things first hand, I would be challenged in ways that I have not been by simply hearing stories about women affected by human trafficking. Ultimately, this experience taught me that I will need to continue to place myself in situations that are out of my comfort zone, where I can physically see and understand a situation that will challenge my beliefs and allow me to widen my horizons.