Entering prison with the intention of providing peaceful space, if even for 90 minutes, is beyond paradoxical. Yet weekly we enter the slamming metal doors to greet — and be greeted by — a determined circle of women who brave depression, PTSD, long sentences, loss of family connection and unknown futures to gather around the table on Thursday evening.
They listen, a variety of filters apparent on each face. Some are frankly curious, others guardedly cautious. Some, the reluctant sidekick of a good friend; others, confident and practiced in the grounding peace the circle offers each week.
At this time of year, seeking peace inside Vermont’s women’s prison can look more like defeat. Emotions run high. Expectations are repeatedly dashed. Initiative is discouraged. For us, there is a fine line: what is an offering of hope to one may be a depressing reality to another. Often it seems best to ignore the season altogether.
Last week we met on the topic of peace. Yes, it’s part of the season; but it’s also something both universal and utterly personal. We took a chance. Following a brief poem, we introduced the women to a peace meditation. Half the gathered group participated; the others looked on with various degrees of discomfort, curiosity and thinly veiled enthusiasm. Yet everyone wrote, creating a focused silence that surrounded the table, providing a pervasive peace in that one space, for those few moments. Read a few samples here:
I am hard-pressed to find someone willing to take on what my mind sifts through every day. I do not consider myself a bad person . . .. I see this image of open hands, willing to take me as I am. It makes me wonder what has changed inside me. I hear the bell tolling and yet I stay. I steel myself to say exactly the wrong thing. I feel I might seek peace, maybe not openly. Certainly not at cost to myself, not lately. I feel this hollow well with no water . . . and everyone’s thirsty.
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WHAT PEACE MEANS TO ME
What peace means to me is freedom. Peace means being content in my life, happiness for myself, friends and loved ones. I haven’t been blessed with true peace in my life, I only hope for it and if I can never have it, I hope people around me do.
I’ve always been jealous of people who I’ve felt had peace, love and happiness in their life when, if you looked hard enough, they didn’t actually have peace, they were simply ‘getting by.’ I don’t want to just get by anymore. I want to move forward with my life peaceful, happy, excited for new things to look forward to in days to come. Not count the hours I have left in each day.
Being in jail, there is no peace. You can’t fix your life or move forward. You’re stuck waiting, longing for the chance to find inner peace and happiness.