Last night, we sat in circle inside Vermont’s women’s prison in the midst of a typically chaotic day. Women returning from work crew were exhausted, out of sorts, choosing showers and downtime and phone calls home as buffers. One woman wept in a corner of the resonant hall. Another was escorted by two Corrections Officers with a lost look on her face.
When time came for our evening group from the general population, it was unclear just who would show up or what explanations we would receive for absences. After all, the group is not mandated. Women come because they choose to. They come to explore their feelings; to untangle the choices that brought them to jail in the first or third place; to seek support for shaky new shoots of resolve they tentatively plant in the safety of our carefully-held circle of deep listeners and wise women.
And last night, they came, new participants in tow, to remember a strong woman in their lives, a woman whose influence grows in them with the opportunity to recall and reflect on values that may have gotten trampled or dissolved through short-sighted decisions with unintended long-term consequences. JL’s story is one such. The featured image is her symbolic representation of what her grandmother has meant to her in her life:
My late grandmother was the most magnificently clever, compassionate and humble woman I have had the honor of knowing.
I spent every weekend at her house, growing up, as my parents were divorced and my Dad was getting back on his feet.
Endless hours playing cards, or playing in her yard. She was the world’s most captive audience as I put on my one-woman productions of The Wizard of Oz. At eight years old. I grabbed a book of Shakespeare from her shelves and read, then began to explain to my grandmother what the meaning was behind what I was reading. Oh, yes, I explained to her all right; and she just nodded, smiled, and made me never once doubt my correctness. Nope, she never once pointed out that I was eight years old, and not some literary genius . . . to me, I was eight years old and understood Shakespeare.
When I was 15 years old, my beautiful grandmother was flipping through a National Geographic magazine pictorial spread on some tribe in Africa. She pointed at the studded rings the women wore in their nostrils and told me how lovely she thought they were.
I do believe my heart stopped for a moment as I clenched the sides of my chair for balance. Did my 90-year-old grandmother just say she liked nose rings?!?! For a teenager such as myself, who wanted to pierce and tattoo anything and everything, this was the craziest, coolest thing I had ever heard.
When my father met the woman who would become the great love of his life and she wasn’t much of a reader but loved dinosaurs, my Grandma bought her a picture book of Danny visits the Dino Museum for Christmas. It was for ages two and up. She was 92, and did this with the utmost sincerity and no harsh intentions. I, of course, thought it was hilarious.
At 94 my Grandma passed away as gracefully as she lived. I was 19. The last memory I have is her smile and her wink. I immediately went to get my nose pierced.