By Kelli Loos, Capital News Service
The Prince George's County Department of Corrections celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month Friday with motivational bilingual speeches from outreach ministries, Latin music and dance.
For many of the inmates, it was not only a chance to break the monotony of their prison sentence, but to feel connected to other Latinos in and outside of the jail walls.
"It illuminates the fact that we're from different countries, but we're all brothers and sisters," said Bryant Jones, 24.
Jones was born in Panama and attended a bilingual school in Clayton, near the Panama Canal. He left for the United States at age 7 and still has family in Panama. He tries to write and call when he can, but it is difficult, he said. He will be serving at least another six years for a malicious wounding.
He said that the Latino inmates try to maintain a tight sense of community.
"The Latinos stick together. We have our Bible studies every night," Jones said.
Chaplain Filiberto E. Romero began the celebration four years ago as a way to bring inmates together and give them hope.
In addition to members of the faith community, Romero invited several speakers who had at one time been imprisoned to talk about how their faith helped them avoid the cycle of criminal behavior.
"Our future is not here. It is outside," said Sonya Ruiz, a speaker who had spent time in the Prince George's County facility.
Guadalupe Martinez said, "Everyone forgets us except God," adding, "Seek him and do not come back to this place."
A sense of hope pervaded the music as well. The band Sol y Rumba played Celia Cruz' "La Vida es Un Carnival," which features the upbeat lyrics "Anyone thinking that things will never change/ Needs to know that's not the case/ smile
Romero is pleased by the inmate's response to the event. "They love it. They cannot wait for us to do this event," he said.
There are about 230 Latino inmates at the Prince George's County Department of Corrections, about 15 percent of the total population, according to a spokeswoman.
The most recent census shows that Prince George's County has the second-highest percentage of Latino population in Maryland at 15.2 percent.