A few weeks ago during a go-around one of the women said “I knocked on the devil’s door but did not expect him to answer.” Tonight those words kept going around in my head like a carousel out of control. I usually sit bearing witness to the women and students as they practice “Zen Coloring” one of the weekly programs I facilitate as part of The Journey Home. I am usually centered and practice some meditation to keep me in a state of equanimity.
Tonight was different. I am not sure why. I watched M as she moved the markers across the blank page. She had chosen a blank white page instead of the usual coloring book type page. She was methodically adding orange to a large flower she had drawn. As I witnessed her creativity, I thought about how she had anticipated her court date which was scheduled for tomorrow. How she longed for the finality of the sentence which she anticipated to include time at Muncy the state facility. She wanted to get on with life even if it meant doing time and being separated from her children. . The court appearance and sentence would be steps closer to reuniting with her children and family. But alas, the court date was postponed. She would have to wait another week. Waiting in limbo that would seem like an eternity.
I heard another woman state in the introductory go around about her frustration with the court system. I don’t know this particular woman’s story but I have heard this frustration time and time again. Preparing for a court date. Waiting for an attorney to show up or not. Wondering what would happen as she stood before the judge. Waiting and then to have it postponed or for the attorney to be AWOL. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Many of the women around these tables tonight have served 3 – 6 months and yet they have not received a sentence or found guilty of the mistake that brought them there.
Oh yes, this is where they have perhaps knocked on the devil’s door. What does this mean exactly? I looked it up on Google and found references to a movie and a song. But these words tonight as I witnessed the group coloring Zen pages, means much more. For most of these women it is about addiction. Perhaps knocking on the devil’s door is losing the battle with heroin, alcohol, meth, or a combination. It is trying to dull the pain the addiction has caused and the pain of what has caused the addiction. As one woman wrote in a life story, “I didn’t stand up in third grade and declare that I was going to be incarcerated in Northampton County Jail.” But this time the devil answered. This time is was one too many, or one action that would take a life, or get one arrested.
One woman told one of the Lafayette students who volunteer with me that she had been part of Dr. Bonnie’s class ten years ago.Oh yes, I remember her and that class. In particular I remember an art piece that expressed deep sadness and grief. A women who was released just days before had OD’d and many of the women were grieving so I facilitated an art project on grief. I noticed this one women, who the women in today’s group call Granny, was deeply involved in her art. I don’t remember the piece but I do remember it as being straight from her heart. In the go around at the end, she shared that her son had just been killed by a drunk driver. The color and movement of her hand with the pens was indeed from a grief deep inside her heart. She also stated that she was here, inside the jail, for drunk driving. And here she was ten years later inside the jail.I am not sure exactly why today. She is also waiting for a court date that keeps being postponed.
I sit and gaze around the room at the participants coloring the zen pages. A few of them I know well because they are part of the other groups I facilitate. Six of them are Lafayette students who come in with me one night a week for the entire semester as volunteers. Women and one man, because of perhaps the chance of their birth, their privilege, will not ever be in the same predicament as the other women in the room. If they do make a mistake, go too far with an addiction, knock on the devil’s door if you will, they will have the resources and privilege to escape this hell, this purgatory of being incarcerated without bail, waiting for their trial date only to have it postponed again and again. Even though I am retired from my position at Lafayette College, I encourage students to volunteer in my programming. I want them to experience the humanity of these women. I want them to go beyond the mistake these women have made that has landed them in this jail. I want them to take this knowledge with them after they leave the bubble of college life and have the power to vote or even make policy. Most of all to develop a sense of compassion for the pain and suffering these women experience.