In another week of prompts that arose from Women’s History Month, our writers this week tackled the tough issues of aligning action with attitude. Based on the impassioned writings and intense discussion that followed reading them, this group clearly understands the division between those who have power (The System) and those who do not (Themselves).
Sadly, the all-too-familiar story of injustice rises up again and again. Paradoxically, within our circle where we support respectful listening, acceptance and individual truth, opposite experiences tumbled out from mouth and heart over and over. They shared repeated experiences of utter lack of respect and understanding throughout the system (although the women were careful to name the few CO’s with a trace of compassion for them as people); experiences that spoke again and again to utter powerlessness. To the harshest punishments being meted out for the simplest attempts to stand up for what is right and fair.
The writings were impassioned and powerful. I am proud to be able to share some of them here as well as on our partner-site, Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform. We on the outside need to understand that life doesn’t just go into suspended animation during a prison sentence. On the contrary, for many it is a daily fight to maintain perspective and sanity. The experience can be utterly disorienting, turning on its head what we might have been taught about cause and effect. Some say it is the very purpose of incarceration to do so.
But it seems to me far more productive to use that time – when women are taken from family and community, from workforce and education – to build skills, provide opportunity and support good decision-making. Instead, they experience the opposite. Is it any wonder they come out more disheartened and less able to cope than perhaps when they started? Powerlessness hardly seems an effective training tool for empowerment.
And so we continue to encourage these women to speak up and speak out. Hoping, as one of our opening epigraphs said, to break patterns in order to help create a new world. THAT is the opposite of powerlessness.
I hope to one day find that. Confined within these walls, I tend to think of freedom in a different sense than I do when I am in the real world. Freedom here is being able to leave and go home. Once I am home, the freedom I need is from myself. My mind does nothing but keep me trapped, the same way these walls do. Always thinking what could’ve been or would’ve been, had I just done this or that different.
People around me often can’t see the real me They see the tough exterior that I have built to protect the fragile soul that lies within. The few I have let get to know who I really am tend to forget how much an action can impact me. How a few words get me lost within my mind. Turning me numb to the world around me. Only within myself I am not numb, I am fighting for freedom from this maze . . . I never know which way to go, what will work, but I will also ever stop trying to find that freedom. For when I find that freedom is when I will find true peace.
excerpt from longer writing:
… What are we, if not different, unique? People, amazing creatures, gave their lives – for freedom, for the right to be a human being. They marched until their feet bled and sang until their throats ran dray. Because they believed in their cause, in the rightness of it. I would stand behind them. I would walk until my legs gave way and I would crawl. I believe in everything those people have done. They set fire to my heart …
Where has that passion gone, the idea of fighting for what is right, what we believe in? Does it seem radical or a rebellion to take a stand against injustice or aggression? I find nothing riveting or consequential in the daily monotony of my life here. Does that mean no one else feels anything anymore? Where have we all gone? Aside from this room, I find no inspiration. I wonder where people are. If they love as I do. If they fear it. Are we all just hiding from the world with our eyes closed? …
TRUE FREEDOM “Great opportunities to help others seldom come, but small ones surround us every day.” – Sally Koch
This facility gives us the opposite of True Freedom.
We are told what to do and when.
What we can have and can not.
What to say and not say.
Not an ounce of freedom
I got a Disciplinary Report (DR) they call them – for saying ‘hello’ to my friend’s daughter on the phone.
Another one for having one too many towels.
Another one for ‘agitating and provoking’ in the cafeteria. Thath one, I wasn’t even in the cafeteria.
And yes, another one again for ‘agitating fna provoking’ because someone took a handful of pudding from the chow hall and proceeded to slap it on faces as they walked by her. I opened my big fat mouth and said, “You people act like freaking 2-year-olds. Then you wonder why you lose your kids.” Yeah, I said it – over the top, yes. But I was so aggravated by mere immaturity I couldn’t NOT say something. My punishment was getting locked out of my room. And not being able to order commissary.
The littlest slice of freedom we get is to buy some stupid coffee and creamer. They take that freedom and just slap you in the face…
So, no great opportunity to help others ever happens here.
Not even small opportunities, they never surround us here.