It was an interesting exercise last Thursday night to offer a prompt about choice to women in one of the least free environments imaginable. And yet, they rose to the challenge, surprising even themselves with the number of things they can choose inside prison. One young woman wrote:
INSIDE CRCF, I CHOOSE
to stay sober
to not eat
to be silent
to love myself/hate myself
to better my education
to go to classes
to get better computer skills
to open up to people
to love one another
to block out bullshit
to be angry
to get help for my own needs.
Ensuing discussion landed squarely on variations of ‘choosing influences who you become.’ To many of us on the outside, this might seem a basic life lesson. To those inside, for whom life has often been a mysterious process of negative reaction to their choices — choices they often felt powerless to effect — this came as something of a revelation. Another woman wrote:
I want to breathe air that’s not all congested with crack smoke. I want to walk out a door and be invited into freedom of choice. And I want to without a doubt live sober, peaceful and remembering it is here inside these walls I’ve overcome . . . – TD
One long-time writer, who has been in and out multiple times, chose a serious statement of intent and purpose:
MY LIFE OF CHOICE
Where I’m placed in my journey in life, as of now, my choices are limited.
Choices are important to all of us, it’s what makes us who we are.
We can make bad choices, which led me behind these cold layers of bricks that hold me from my children every day.
Or we can make good choices, which have led me on the path of redemption. A path to heal, to forgive and forget, to learn new and healthier ways to live.
I have the choice today to wake up and live the life I want with exceptions.
I can use, but I choose not to.
I can work and I do, every day.
I can smoke, but I choose not to.
I can do schoolwork, and I do, every day.
These are the choices we need to start making, better and wiser choices before it’s too late.
Everything happens for a reason. I was placed here because it’s God’s choice. He knows that I wasn’t making the healthiest of choices, so now’s my time to re-evaluate my thinking before I run out of choices to make.
A fourth woman chose to think outside the prison walls, wistful and playful at the same time:
THERE IS CHOICE IN ALL THINGS – NOT CHOOSING IS STILL A CHOICE
Just this morning, I chose when to open my eyes and with that first flutter of lashes, I chose to exhale deeply and began to process the lively chatter that heralds every morning… Espresso would be the next choice, how many pink sugars, one cream or two? The usual iced coffee – or would this be the day I drink it hot? No, of course not. So many choices, so little time. A crisp newspaper? Why, yes, I think – at the office? Definitely.
I choose to lunch with a friend and decide when to smile, to laugh or perhaps cry. I can choose peace while brushing my teeth, most importantly I choose to participate, mediate, articulate and even pontificate . . .
Choice may be the single most significant way these women can go forward on a changed path — once they accept and internalize their own agency to make them. At least for one evening, in a small windowless room inside Vermont’s women’s prison, each woman voiced her reality of choice in all things.