Given the intense quality of the comments to the previous post, I’m working on a follow-up post, in hopes of addressing some of the thought-provoking questions and statements. Thank you for being such wonderful, thoughtful, curious companions! I started to respond to each comment, but the responses seem better off woven together, so I’m working on that stitching. In the meantime, here’s a (relatively) short post for today.
We began our prison volunteer program again last night, after a much-needed summer off. PW started this program 13 years ago. When she mentioned that in the car on the way over, I said, “Wow! Whodathunkit?” She replied, “Not me. I thought it would last a year.” Yet another proof of John Lennon’s great line, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”
It was great to see our program officer, the guard who is assigned to accompany our program up to the unit. He is a quality human being, which I find so refreshing (and far too rare) in any big, oppressive institution, whether it’s a correctional facility or a corporation or a government agency or a church.
Once we got up into the cafeteria that sits between two women’s units, a mushrooming level of sound preceded the women’s arrival. There were many familiar faces and a few new ones. We had an extra-noisy reunion with one woman who has frequently participated in the program, having been in and out of this facility (and others) for most of the past 13 years (and probably longer). Another woman came up to me and said, “Do you remember me? I remember you.” I did remember her, but I had forgotten her name, and when she reminded me, her already beautiful face went into high-beam mode. In my limited experience, there’s not a whole lot of beauty in prison, so encountering it is a newsworthy event.
I’ll share more of my thoughts about our prison project as we continue walking along The Crooked Line together. For now, I want to leave you with our opening reflection, which we read at the beginning of the program, while we’re gathered in a circle holding hands (which I’m pretty sure is a violation of prison protocol). A few of years ago, we started reading it as a call and response. One of the incarcerated women reads the “What we want” lines, and the rest of us read or say the “What we get” lines.
One of the things I love about this project is knowing how many of these women have this poem in their heads. I don’t know if they ever draw on it, but just knowing that it’s there, nestled in the crevices of their often compromised brains and written onto their often shattered hearts, well, it reminds me of how much I have in common with them, and of how much I need them.
Reflections After Compline
by Sue Stock from “Prisms of the Soul”
What we want is power,
What we get is frailty;
What we want is certainty,
What we get is ambiguity;
What we want is answers,
What we get is questions;
What we want is self-sufficiency,
What we get is interdependence;
What we want is permanence,
What we get is transience;
What we want is clarity,
What we get is mystery;
What we want is fantasy –
What we get is God.