Notions of home economics in Alcalá-Meco: “Do you still have to pay a loan if you go to prison?”

Sitting in front of a future, 17 women attend a workshop where three men give them notions on how to manage one of the most difficult ties for anyone: the one that binds you to a bank. To the financial institution, that is. They ask how to make international transfers or how to avoid loan payments when you are “inside”. In this case, inside Alcalá-Meco. Because, in addition to their female condition, most of the students share others: being poor, foreigners and that a man profited from them. The three men who speak to them have other intentions: to explain the APR, the difference between credit and loan or raise, albeit succinctly, the recurring debate about whether mortgages should be requested at a fixed or variable rate.

Alcalá-Meco I appears to be the garden of Alcalá-Meco II. The former is a women’s prison; the latter is a men’s prison. From the outside, the latter appears as a succession of dungeons surrounded by high walls topped with barbed wire. In Alcalá-Meco I, by contrast, the modules are pyramidal roof constructions and two floors that could remind a modest youth hostel if it were not for the huge lock of the cells. The inmates circulate around the enclosure with relative freedom. It is Wednesday and autumn lends its last rays of sunshine.

In one of the premises of the prison, the 17 women attend in absolute silence the explanations of the territorial director of the Banco Santander, Alberto Delgado, who has lent to teach in Madrid the workshop Finance for mortals with which the entity has already toured several prisons of men in Galicia, Cantabria, Valencia and Castilla y León.

The director of the prison, Jesus Moreno, explains outside to a group of journalists that it has been necessary to select the 17 women because there were many more candidates to the course. Inside, the representatives of the bank explain how important it is for the “family economy” to live with 90% of your income, spend half of it on housing, electricity, water… another 30% on leisure or clothes, and leave the remaining 20% to save and cover any unforeseen events. They talk about opening an Excel file, but it is enough “with a sheet of paper” where to reflect it.

The explanation is interrumpe with a humorous video about the life of a spendthrift, or another explaining banking concepts starring Leo Harlem. The bankers take the floor again to explain the difference between the APR and the APR. But it’s time to talk about Euribor, so important for variable rate mortgages. “It’s the price of money,” says Delgado. And it seems that, for a moment, he realizes the absurdity of this description outside the world of economists. “Well, that’s cool to know,” he says to get himself out of trouble in front of the “mortals.”

Alberto Delgado is a middle-aged man, wearing a suit and no tie, flanked by two assistants dressed in a somewhat more casual way, one of them much younger, who are truffling their interventions with plain explanations and some notes. Between the three of them they take the opportunity to explain the difference between credit and loan.

In the second row, Denís listens attentively. He is 23 years old, from Venezuela but has been in Spain for four years. Just a few months in prison. “I entered with the pandemic,” he explains to the journalist. Denís uses the question and answer session to find out if the bank stops loan payments when you are in prison. The representative of Santander recommends negotiating with the entity that stop waiting for the completion of sentence, but warns: “You will continue to pay interest”.

In the only bank in the front row is Karen. 28 years old, Brazilian, petite. Her story is the story of so many of her colleagues. She was arrested in Barajas as soon as she set foot in Spain, so she has learned the language in prison. In addition to the place she has chosen to sit, she stands out for her attire: she comes from a painting workshop and has not had time to take off her stained overalls. He has served half of his sentence and the Treatment Board is deciding on his third degree. Everything he learns today can only be put into practice in Velo Horizonte: his sentence means immediate expulsion. If he is granted provisional release, he will go straight to the plane.

“Be careful when you give a guarantee”, explains Alberto Delgado: “It seems simple to sign and that it has no consequences, but if you don’t pay the person you’re guaranteeing, you end up doing it yourself”. However, his strong message is the following: “You have to build your financial history”. He repeats it several times and at the end he gives a clue as to how important it is not only for the family economy: “It is good that your bank know you, for example when you are going to apply for a mortgage”.

Talking to Catalina, a 37-year-old Colombian woman, you can sense that she is perhaps the intern who got the most out of the talk. Catalina had a business in her country selling clothes and beauty products online. Her story in Spain is one of return and return. She returned to her country of origin and there she was arrested for a crime that Spain was demanding. She explains that she is paying for her ex-husband’s mistakes, that there was nothing to convict her with… And that she talks every two days with her ten-year-old son, who is taken care of by her family in Colombia.

“In Spain there is a certain racism, although it is not generalized. Going out with a bracelet is going to be difficult to find a job,” she explains with ease. So she chooses to be an entrepreneur, hence her great interest in what they have come to explain to her. Catalina entered a Colombian prison three months pregnant. “Compared to the prisons there, they look like university exchange prisons,” she says, tilting her head to one side.

Inside, other inmates have asked about the possibility of using the Bizzum with other countries – negative answer – or to open an account and put it in the name of a child or grandchild, that there are also grandmothers among the assistants, although they are all relatively young. Mariana has no trouble smiling. She is Venezuelan and also has Spanish nationality. She was arrested in Austria and extradited to Spain. She agrees that the German she speaks can help her when she gets out. “At first it seems impossible for a Spaniard, but you end up learning,” she says. Then she takes her friend Denis by the arm, and they head for the canteen: “The course is very good. Here the days are very long”.

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