Easter Morning Behind Bars

I check the time on my phone which is safely kept under my pillow.Damn! 8:45! I need to be in the jail by 9. I had woken up at 7 and fell back into a deep sleep. Now I would have to rush. No time for my usual leisurely morning rituals that I have practiced since retiring last July.

The women who participate in my group inside the local county jail wanted to do something special for Easter morning. They asked to have an Easter egg hunt but the “white shirts” (the lieutenant) just laughed at that request. So we decided on a fun movie. They also gave themselves a writing assignment. D. who had written an amazing piece last week. promised to complete it and the others were to write about anything.

I don’t tend to celebrate holidays. The days are not usually in my radar. It is almost impossible to be totally unaware when you hear that shops are closed, folks talk about being with families, etc. I woke at 7 this morning to the voices from the park by the river. They were very faint but I realized it was the sunrise service. On my way to the jail there was heavy foot traffic rushing to the local theater for a religious service.

So I jumped out of bed. Actually shocked my little dog, Clyde, and rushed to the shower after starting the espresso machine. What little time I had to get out the door had to be carefully utilized. I had many tasks to complete – shower, drink coffee, get dressed, drink coffee, take Clyde out, drink coffee, gather the items for the group, finish the coffee! Somehow I accomplished all of this with time to get to the jail by 9.

Inside the jail, the women were waiting for our group. This was unusual for a Sunday morning. Previous Sundays, I had to wait for them to be unlocked from their cells. Many times, I thought of changing to a later time. But not today. The group consists of five women. The number fluctuates from time to time. Sometimes a woman is released, sometimes moved to another unit, and sometimes they decided the group is not for them. So at the present, there are five women who meet with me four times a week for my trauma informed group practice.

We began the group with our usual opening ritual of a go-around of intentions and a Buddhist bell to set the circle. We sat in an open circle instead of around the table. This was a change in the routine. After the opening ritual, the women began to read the stories.  It was decided that D would go last. Each of the readings reflected the emotions of life inside this unit, the life of women waiting to go to trial, to be released, or to be sent “upstate” to Muncy, PA state correctional facility.

At different times during the readings, a word or an emotion expressed would bring tears to the women, including me, as we listened. The level of intimacy is so deep and emotions are so raw. The laughter, tears, kindness, love goes beyond what anyone would expect to find within these concrete walls.

The readings concluded with D’s amazing writing about what lessons she has learned. We were all moved by the stories about her experiences at Muncy and here in NCP. As in previous groups, the women encourage her to write a book when she gets released. They speak to how well she expresses their voices, their experiences. They want others to know who they are and what they feel. I promise to take this particular writing home, input into the computer and make copies for each of the women.

 

After the reading session, we set up the room to watch a movie. Just when the movie is about to begin the trays arrive for lunch. One of the women is a “runner” whose job is to assist with the distribution of the trays so she steps out of the room. The other women decided they are going to bring their trays into our “classroom” and eat lunch while we watch the movie. This is not usually allowed. They decide they will just act as if this is the common practice and it works. Not sure if it was because the correctional officer is new or because it is a holiday, that is was allowed or perhaps just overlooked.

We watch “Oh Brother were art thou?” during which we laugh, comment, and one of us sings along with the music. When the film ends, I check the time and it is a few minutes after noon. I usually leave at 11 and am surprised that the officers have not asked me to leave at my scheduled time. I take out the Buddhist bell and prepare for our closing ritual which consists of a go-around about our take always from the session. In the opening ritual, some had spoken about their sadness at not being at home with children and family to participate in their Easter holiday.

I am deeply moved by the words during the closing ritual. I am not prepared for the gratitude and joy that is expressed about this special Easter morning we have shared. I am moved to tears and can barely express any words. Earlier I had regretted not bringing in a poem I had written in 2005 “The Resurrection of the Crone.” I thought it would have been a good contribution to the sharing. As I walked out of the jail and drove home, I kept thinking about this poem. I thought about my gratitude to these women for sharing their Easter morning with me. In my poem I am seeking a new life after a time of darkness. I am looking for the goddess to give me guidance and wisdom. the words express how I feel this morning:

Can I find her here

in this place of patriarchy and a masculine god

where the goddess and the strong feminine

are hung on the cross to die

is that my charge

to find her here

to find “her – the goddess, the crone – in me

to take her/me down from the cross

wrap her in garments flowing with color

place her/me in the cave of my soul

in preparation for the resurrection into new life

As I drive home I pass folks going to and from their place of worship. I see women in Easter hats and children dressed in their new Easter outfits. I park my car and walk to my apartment thinking about preparing my late breakfast. But dwelling in my soul are the words of the women, the laughter, the tears, the friendship. And think this is the resurrection. In these three hours with women who have been judged by our society and put away behind bars, I experience the love, hope, and new life as symbolized by this Easter holiday and say “Yes, indeed this is truly holy.”

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