The day of the quake was our last day to go to the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women. A few friends and I have been working with a small group of women there since March. They are part of Readyness Wellness, a small residential re-entry program for about 20 women who have a history of trauma or substance abuse and will be released within 2 years. The women must apply to be in the program, and must particpate and be on good behaviour to remain in the program.
As a result, its a very self-selecting group. The 13 women who made it to Tuesday's graduation ceremony were bursting with pride and looking resplendent in their green graduation robes and hats.
The whole afternoon was very moving. The women had decorated their wing with streamers and a giant banner w/their names, hand-prints and inspirational words like passion, perseverance, and most notably: attitude. Which these women have in abundance.
Dawn lead the ceremony; a self-title chatty kathy and generally brazen, outspoken women with a huge heart. in the tea and cake section at the end, a younger member of the group (23 years old) showed us the pile of birthday cards that dawn had somehow managed to orchestrate the sending of. These cards are not available at fluvanna; she had inspired someone out there to buy and send these cards to her so that Leah would feel loved on her birthday.
There was a chaplain's blessing, a brief reading, and a performance by a group of inmate Praise Dancers; a new concept for me (check it this group from LA). Many of the women got up and shared what the program had meant to them; where they'd been and where they stood now. And then the presenting of the certificates began...One powerful women named Star was recieving hers, tears welling up. Just as Mr. Young asked her what the tears were for, the ground started shaking. !!!!!!!!!!!!!! We weren't too close to the epicenter...and things are pretty well bolted down there. The ceremony continued for a little while, til word came down that they was an emergency count. groaning ensued, as everyone returned to their cells--the whole thing took about 45 minutes, and then continued on seemlessly. though star no longer remembered why she'd been crying.
Misty and I were both trying to get in touch with a sense of closure and completion: we'd likely never see these women again. Both of us felt that the experience of connecting with these women had made a huge difference for us, but that although the group time seemed impactful and the women raved about it, we really had no idea if it would have a lasting impact on them.
I'm very grateful to have had the experience, and those women are undoubtedly among the strongest, ballsiest, most passionate I have known. And I'm left with questions: what is the most effective way to support people who are caught in the "justice" system? Is there a way to support the people without supporting the institution? Is it something that can be addressed on a personal level, or must it be a systemic solution? Perhaps...
Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness, and our ability to tell our own stories...- Arundhati Roy