Going Behind The Fence-Year One

In January 2016, I started volunteering with Truth Be Told to learn to be a facilitator in a women’s prison. Every week, I drove two hours with Carol Waid to Gatesville to the Lane Murray Unit where we led an amazing group of women in a series of classes: Talk To Me Writing, Discovery and Living Deeper and Freer. It was a beautiful progression. First, they told the stories of what led to incarceration in Talk To Me. Then they wrote about the women they want to become in the Discovery. Finally,  they learned how to source their own wisdom every day through Living Deeper and Freer. Throughout that year, I kept a kind of journal of quotes and perceptions. Here are a few of them.

“I’m 49. I’ve been in and out of prison since I was fifteen. I want to be in this program because someday I’m going to get out and I know people will judge me for being in here. I want to be able to tell my story without feeling bad, you know, ashamed.” January 28, 2016

“When I was little, my daddy beat me a lot. If I cried, he beat me harder. At my trial, everyone said I showed no remorse. I didn’t know how. I didn’t know how.” February 4, 2016

If you were facing your first lockdown, what would you imagine? Shackles? Chains? One inmate, after living through her first one, came to class so elated to find it wasn’t as bad as she imagined. She spent the two weeks reading her bible, finding solace in those pages and thinking about the goodness of humanity. Her conclusion after her two week study? “God Don’t Make No Junk.” April 8, 2016

“There are two ways for me to look at the time I’m in prison: One is all the time I’m here is a big waste and I have to wait around ’til I get out before I can live again. The other is God set me down here because before I got here, I couldn’t go nowhere without a half gallon of vodka in the back of my car. God set me down here before I killed someone so that I could use this time to be a better person before I go out in the world again.” April 22, 2016

Today we did a guided meditation with the women to get them in touch with their inner, wiser selves. Then they wrote letters from these wiser selves to their younger selves. Afterwards, one woman shared, “If I had been able to hear this wiser me just once, if I’d known she was inside me, I wouldn’t be here.” April  28, 2016

“Last night was a night of deep talking.  One woman said, “I’ve lived among people a long time. Fifteen years in prison. This is the first time I’ve felt community. This is the first time I’ve understood community.” August 12, 2016

“My youngest was three years old when I got put in here. He’s 20 now. He came to see me for the first time last month and promised that he would come see me again. And he did. Last week. God has me. He knows right where I am. I have to keep trusting. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” August 28, 2016

At the beginning of class, we ask this question: What are you present to? It helps everyone get centered. “I am present to how I have changed. I had the shell of an armadillo when I first came to this class. I hated everyone. My mother gave me away to my grandmother when I was six weeks old and I was abused all the time by my uncles. I dropped out of school in the 8th grade. Since I’ve been in here, I got my GED, my Associates Degree and now I’m taking university classes from Texas A&M. I feel excited about my life. My heart has softened so much. I may never get out of here but I’m going to make something of myself.” December 1, 2016

This week was graduation. We only knew the titles of their pieces. We did not know what they would say. One by one by one, they stood tall and shared themselves with the audience. What was amazing to me was how they talked about their crimes. They owned them as something they had done; not who they are. They weren’t ashamed. Regretful, yes. But not ashamed. And because shame didn’t hang on them, their intelligence, their hearts, their innate beauty shined in a way I hadn’t ever seen. In an environment which can often cruel and mean, they stood tall in their worthiness. On my knees. Grateful. Awed.   December 10, 2016

And that was just the first year…To be continued…