Shattered…and still I rise


“I am trying to build courage now- draw on the wisdom of past events and experiences to help me move forward. “ (member of the life stories group)

“I felt courage arise again…when. I arose…this morning. It feels mundane, now, my courage. I take for granted the steel will that takes me from the first heart-pounding minutes of the day to the moments just before my medicine kicks in to give my harried brain a break for the night. Courage doesn’t feel like enough anymore.” (member of the life stories group)

The women in The Journey Home program have been shattered by life in so many ways – drugs, abuse, shame, societal stereotypes. Sometimes this begins with just one mistake, sometimes a series of mistakes. Almost always their lives revolve around drugs. Drugs taken to medicate the pain of abuse, drugs taken to experience a sense of thrill, or drugs taken as a way of life as exemplified by family and friends.

Today, for the women in my group, drugs are prescribed by the jail medical department. When asked, the women give a litany of pharmaceuticals, crushed by the nurse as the whole unit lines up after the call “Meds” is shouted out by the correctional officer in charge of the unit. I suppose one might say that these drugs accomplish the same purpose as stated above that is easing the pain, or in the words quoted above to give “my harried brain a break for the night.” Most importantly, I believe, they are used to medicate the anxiety, stress, shame, that comes from being on the unit. Perhaps, to keep the women from acting out, pacify them if you will to abide by the rules of the correctional facility.

I have witnessed the impact of the meds on the women. The times I am scheduled to facilitate my group coincides with the time of the meds. Sometimes, just before I begin and sometimes after about 30 minutes. Either way, after about 30 minutes, the impact is obvious. The women become sleepy, can not think clearly, sometimes not able to process the words of the activity. (As a side note, one of the student volunteers researched the list of the medications. She found that two of the most used medications should not be crushed. Of course, the pills are crushed as policy because the women could “cheek the pill” and then possibly sell it to another inmate. One of these is seroquel. According to Wikipedia, “it is an atypical anti-psychotic…Sometimes used as a sleep aid due to its sedating effect, but this use is not recommended.” I have never spoken to the medical department and of course would not be privie to the medical reasons for the women’s meds. Perhaps, each of them have some one of the conditions listed for the use of this drug. However, I can attest to the drowsiness is produced. Maybe this instant drowsiness is a result of the crushing of this powerful drug which according to the students research should not be crushed.

But I digress. I intended this posting to be about the rebuilding of the shattered lives of the women in my program. How step by step they lift each stone as if building a giant pyramid. And sometimes their ground is shaken and the stones fall. The stones seemed fall on Friday.

I got a text from one of the women who come down to the studio. “I’m being arrested.” My heart stops. She has been outside for several months. On the inside she worked every program possible. Since released she has been part of mental health court and comes to the studio for creative time. She is amazing and serious about rebuilding her life. Now she is being arrested for a previous charge of DUI in Monroe County. I walk so fast to the corner where she is being handcuffed that my phone thinks I am driving and shuts down. Three cops cars, several officers. Such a public display. She is crushed, she is embarrassed and ashamed. And at the same time discouraged an angry. Yet, she stands tall and keeps her cool. Tears form as the officer says he has to cuff her. Right there on the street. Right there after all the hard work and doing what is right.

The warrant is from the past. Somehow it was missed I guess when she was processed so many times inside and as part of the mental health court. She had just reported to her probation office. As a matter of fact, she had just left his office to come to my studio. The officers placed her in the car and were with the help of the state police transporting her to Monroe County.

“Yes,” the officer replies to my questions. “You can pick her up after she sees the judge in Stroudsburg.” What? Where? When? “She can call you.”

Thanks to an awesome office in Monroe County who arranged for a judge to see her then and there. After all it was late Friday afternoon. If not, she would have been locked up for the weekend.

Because of her hard work, she has built supports who could step in. Me at the time of arrest for moral support and another who drove to Stroudsburg to pick her up. Luckily she had her phone and I was able to access and read her text. Many things fell into place so that on Friday evening she was at home.


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