Mary Fisher's Heroes
Mercedes Cruz and Sandra Ocasio at Riker's Island. 
Riker's Island, NYC Dept. of Correction.
    Prisoners of war who come home alive often talk little of the torture they endured and much about the ingenious means used by fellow prisons to care for one another. You cannot wall out compassion.
    I was not sure what I'd find at Riker's Island, but I'd been told that several amazing women were caregivers to the inmates. In a setting where so many women had histories of abuse and addictions, and high risk behaviors of almost every kind, it was inevitable that they would come to prison bringing AIDS with them. Perhaps it was equally inevitable that, once there, they would find caregivers: chaplains, educators, social workers, even matrons and guards. I was amazed by the compassion they demonstrated in the least compassionate of all surroundings.
    But most of the caregivers of women with AIDS in prison were other women in prison. There were dozens of them at Riker's Island. When women stood to hesitantly admit that they, too, had tested positive for the AIDS virus, the response from their fellow inmates was potent. In spite of prison-culture toughness, they wept together, holding one another and rocking back and forth, reassuring each other like the mothers and grandmothers who held them years before.
    Victor Frankl once said that he and his fellow survivors of the Nazi death camps would always keep alive the memories of extraordinary heroes who had been imprisoned with them. The most remarkable, he said, were the men who walked through the camps giving away their last piece of bread so others could live another day.
Compassion has limits, but surely it is not bound by walls.
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