Going Behind The Fence – Year Three

Every time I go behind the fence, I have a hard time with the guards: their inflexibility, the humorlessness, their lack of joy or creativity. Finally, one of women in the group says to me, “They’re doing time right along with us. Sure, they can go home. But they work for TDCJ, same as us.”

Oh. My heart gets a little bit smarter as Year Two of Pay It Forward begins.

Toward the end of class, one woman leaned forward and said, “I need to tell you all something. I grew up in a family where there was a lot of screaming and hitting and throwing people and stuff against the walls. That’s what I knew. My first husband, he’s the father of my first child…he was so calm and boring. I remember saying to my mother, ‘This guy has got to go.’ It took me a long time to figure out that all he wanted to do was love me and the baby. This class feels calm. This class is church.”  (February)

Tonight we talked about passion. What makes us feel alive? What is worth fighting for? She said freedom. She said the earth, a garden. She said her 80 year old friend who needs to get out of prison and go home. She said her sanity. She said signing for the deaf. She said writing. She said the people who can’t fight for themselves. She said love. (May)

Tonight we talked about leadership. What does leadership mean to you? Here are a few snippets…. “I knew I was a leader when I could tell right from wrong.” “Leaders build you up and help you. They don’t tear you down and tell you that you are a retard.” “Leaders aren’t afraid of the truth.” “Leaders are teachers.” “Leaders see with their hearts not with their judgement.” Since I started volunteering with Truth Be Told in 2016, ten women have received parole and are in various bureaucratic stages of being released into this overwrought world. Fly, my little chicks, fly. You can make it. (July)

Last night, the women shared their answers to this question: If you were released tomorrow, where do you want to be in five years? I added this question: what thought or feeling holds you captive and if you were released from it, what would your life look like in five years? One woman who is seventy-seven said, “All I want to do is sit and look out my front window. And when I’m not looking out my front window, I want to look at the TV. That’s enough. I’ve done enough. All I want to do is sit and look.” Is there anything that would keep you from doing it? “I suppose it’s that same old thought that I have to do something in order to matter.” (August)

Tonight, our leader asked us to think about what we are deeply grateful for. Not one thing. Five things with reasons. We went deep. We danced. We cried. And oh yeah, we laughed. At the end, the leader sighed, “This is freedom. My spirit feels free in this class.” (November)

Every time I arrive at Lane Murray Unit and these women come to class, I am honored. Plain and simple.