choice in all things

choice in human form

credit – asunshinyday

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:


to stay sober
to not eat
to talk
to be silent
to love myself/hate myself
to shower
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.
– JG

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: Continue reading

powerless to connect

Caught in the Web / andimariee

Caught in the Web / andimariee

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.

patient powerlessness

Being incarcerated means endless waiting…for chow, for meds, for decisions from the courts about your status.  ..a deserved waiting, some would say.  But, imagine the experience of losing control over absolutely EVERYTHING in your life, including when you shower, eat, hug your children, and on and on.  Imprisonment is the ultimate experience of powerlessness.

“Turtle” by Tina

Responding to a line from Kay Ryan’s poem Patience, ‘inside’-writer BE shares her insights:

“Patience is wider than one once envisioned…”

If you listen to the ringing in your ears, your heart racing as your mind says quicker, quicker, quicker…go, go, go, yet your body yearns for solitude, and “patience” seems like a foreign word.

..waiting at the end of the line having to sit and think about the life you left behind…not knowing when or if you’ll get back in time.

..listening to the radio, waiting for your favorite song to play.  Day turns to night, and it never played.  ..not having the choice to change the disc or skip the CD.

..waiting for the great day to come when you will hear good news.  Maybe you can get back to your life and your own choices.

Now you’ve waited and waited long enough and what they call “patience” is all you have left inside your hurting soul.

..having no choice but to endure this complicated situation you’ve put yourself in.  ..being left with no choice but to be patient.  God knows that once you lose it (patience), the consequences will only hurt worse and steal more light from your already aching soul.

Some say “patience is a virtue.”  Yet, I must ask, is it a virtue or a necessary tool for this place we call “life?”