Growing up

Canadian writer opts for Serbian prison

Imagine living in Canada for over 30 years and doing marketing on social networks. Now imagine delivering books to Balkan prisoners.

Maya Delic was just about to found her own startup when her mother got sick. She returned to Belgrade and had to stay there – her mother became paralyzed and lost the power of speech. She came from the western system to her homeland’s defective one and does charity work now. Her Facebook group “RESETKA“ collects donations for prisoners aiming to improve and reform prison conditions (translation – “the Reset Bar“; the Serbian new word is created from 2 words: “rešetka“ – prison bar, and the English word “reset“ – fresh start)

How did you start collecting books for prisoners?

Quite spontaneously. I had a lot of unwanted books and talking to a friend whose brother is a convict, I realized that they need books the most. I got the prison warden’s number and she was elated, so I made a post and then a facebook page asking people for books. When we delivered our first donation to the female prison, I found out they had a lot of other necessities with which they needed help.

What types of aid have you collected so far?

Soaps, toothbrushes, sanitary napkins, underwear; clothes for the Juvenile Detention Center; baby clothes, toys, beds, and strollers for the female prison’s maternal ward.

How do people react with so much stigma still attached to prison?

People either immediately approve, or they criticize us for giving books to prisoners instead of needy children.

Does your profession affect the way you take action?

A lot. I studied to become a writer but I did plenty of marketing on social networks. That helped me create an appealing post.

Has this changed you somehow?

I was going through a rough patch when wonderful people started bringing me their donations. That really boosted my morale. I’ve always sympathized most with the underdogs such as prisoners. People’s bad reactions also motivated me. Many can’t fathom that a lousy prison reform system influences both the society and them personally. The way I see it, as important as it is to collect aid, it’s just as vital to get people to start thinking differently.

What is the real state of the Serbian prisons?

Pathetic, as everything  else that’s in great need of investment in our country. So with our poor schools, health institutions, orphanages, etc… prisons get left on the back burner. They have to finance themselves. There are severe rules due to the past corruption which I have to obey bringing the aid. Still, the conditions are improving slowly. Prisons are crammed but new ones are being constructed. Alternative sanctions are also being developed as more people are allowed to stay house arrest.

How do you deliver aid into the prisons?

The Ministry of Justice in Belgrade has to approve everything. I write a request with a list of the things and they reply within 3 days. Then I usually deliver it to the prison – that’s the only way to get real information on the situation there. 

Maya with some of the books for prisoners

What is your ultimate goal?

I’m creating an NGO called “Society for Society“ so that we start taking action on our own and help ourselves. Otherwise, we will remain in this status quo. We just criticize the government but nothing changes, and nothing will change until we ourselves start to improve our social system.

How has the process of collecting aid influenced you?

It has changed my life.  Doing this has given me a huge motive to stay in Serbia, and now seems more important than the map startup company I was building in Toronto.

Who are your coworkers and those who most often send you the aid?

Interestingly, mostly women. My friends help me a lot. Someone always appears at the last minute and goes all out to help me. I’ve tried contacting some companies and bookstores, but they did not respond.

What books and things do they want most?

They mainly want bestsellers and modern books since they have a lot of old novels and communist literature. They like magazines a lot because they are easier to read and can be used as wall decoration.

What is the social structure in the women’s prison? Who are the most common inmates?

Sadly more than 60% of these female prisoners had suffered domestic violence and then decided to defend themselves or take revenge. Others are jailed mainly for minor offenses – drugs, theft, fraud, or as accomplices to bigger crimes.

Do you have any other ideas like this one?

Yes, psychiatric clinics. They don’t even have toilet paper there, let alone material for drawing and free time activities. The only way that will change right here right now, is if we do something. 

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