Certain incarcerated women can be “tough numbers” at times.
A mood or depression overcomes them, and it’s nearly impossible to access the meaningful connection you’ve cultivated with them over months and years of writing together.
No doubt they feel trapped inside their uncontrollable swirlings of personality–anger, sadness, bitterness, and mental illness in many cases.
On occasion, some fail even to make eye contact with you when you call them for group despite a poignant interaction the day before.
..which is what I encountered entering “Delta” unit on Friday night to corral a handful of them for a program. Four women were engrossed in a game of Rumy and proclaimed vociferously:
“We started working outside this morning, got up at 6, exhausted, just gonna play cards and go to bed.”
End of conversation.
These women are my most dedicated participants and their collective decision to skip class would have a sizable impact on leadership of the group this night.
I felt sloughed off, another mistrusted person in their eyes. But mostly, I felt powerless.
What happened from yesterday to today? Why won’t they look at my face? Why are they missing the circle, when it would provide the very validation and nourishment they need most? And clearly they had made a “group decision” to miss class together.
Sometimes it’s easy to take the attitudes and behaviors of these women inmates personally. To feel discouraged. To be pissed–ergo, I’m giving up my Friday night to be in a prison facility with inmates not showing up?!
And then I breathe, and I breathe again.
Later this evening, I brush my teeth before sleep and an insight comes. The four playing cards together and chatting like friends are some of the very same women who wouldn’t even speak to each another in my class eight weeks ago.
One of these women had even penned on an evaluation, “Not interested in getting to know anyone. Just gonna keep my head down til I get out.”
And it dawns on me that there they sat, playing cards, laughing and talking, ignoring me, yes, but really, who knows or understands the mysteries of this ‘inside’ work and what it accomplishes.
Shall I judge it all with my limited understanding, or simply continue to be a calm, consistent presence ‘inside’ who trusts that all is playing out exactly as it needs to.