15 June 2017

A Delicious Night in a Colombian Jail

I have always been a bit curious about Cartagena’s women’s prison, located within the Old City walls just a half a block from the trendy Plaza San Diego (and a block from where I lived while teaching here). I have walked by the jail countless times, often seeing small signs of the women’s lives through the bars on the second floor above — sheets tied up to block the strong Caribbean sun, clothes hanging to dry, a hand of someone presumably gazing out at the sky above. The depressing sign above the entry states visitors are allowed Saturdays & Sundays, entering between 9 & noon and leaving by 3 pm. All a stark contrast to the charming architecture & Caribbean colors of most of the rest of the UNESCO world heritage site.

Reports state that the prison was built for 50 but now houses 180+ and is to be moved from its highly sought after (& high priced) walled city location; it is steps from the luxury Hotel Sofitel Santa Clara and numerous $$$$ restaurants.

"I believe in second chances"
Despite this potential imminent move of the Carcel de Mujeres de San Diego, Restaurante Interno opened its doors late last year and not only adds to the culinary offerings of the Old City, but is a prison rehabilitation program as well. It provides practical training for inmates so they have marketable skills upon release, plus funds other prison projects improving conditions & prospects for the inmates.

I was finally able to check out the restaurant last night & it was a delicious, while at times humbling, experience! The food was good and the setting pretty, despite the seemingly (although given the circumstances understandably) unwelcoming nature of the restaurant entrance -- a locked metal door which is opened and closed by a guard. The servers wear t-shirts that say "I believe in second chances" and plated food is passed to them from the kitchen through slots in a gate.

Top chefs donated recipes and helped train the women to prepare and cook them. A prison garden and bakery supply the restaurant, as well as provide additional training opportunities for the inmates. Those who work there earn (limited) funds to send home to families. Segundas oportunidades is written on the entry wall to the restaurant and referenced on the t-shirt backs of restaurant staff; "second chances" are being offered for these women.

For more information on this Cartagena restaurant, see the brief story on their site and also an AP article here. A quick search found similar type eateries in Italy & Britain too. Should you find yourself in any of these areas, give the restaurants a try! And maybe there are more? Please comment if you find one!

P.S. For those who are curious as to what the inside of the Cartagena women's prison looks like, see photos I found on Facebook here. 2018 update: video footage from the restaurant & inside the prison can be seen here.

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