After writing inside for more than three years with some of the same women, I find myself feeling like big sister-mother-aunt to them. I applaud their good choices; cheer for their release from prison; hold my breath once they’re out. I so want them to continue making the strong choices they pledged themselves to pre-release.
Many times my hopes are dashed along with theirs. When they return, some come right back to the writing circle’s safety and acceptance. Others appear to have forgotten all about us. Their shame can be overwhelming. This is when I know they, too, have come to regard me as a caring relative.
Working closely with two or three women who have gotten out, found work, and chosen clean living, I see first-hand the constant uphill challenges they face. Daily. Hourly. At night. Earlier today I met with one woman who confided that she hit a real low last week. Even her dreams called her to slip into the familiar oblivion offered by drugs.
But she fought hard to recall her pledge – mostly to herself, but also to those of us she counts her staunch supporters – NOT GIVING IN. Her success in pushing back against the siren call is indeed heartening, her pride palpable. Not giving in made her feel powerful, so much so that she wants to write about it, to remember the tug of the drugs and the strength she derived from refusing their seductive overture.
THIS is why we go back, week after week. THIS is why we hold our circle open for those who need multiple starts. THIS is why we believe in the women who truly want to move forward with their lives by not giving in to the forces that would return them to prison again and again.