The sound of the doors closing in the jail is very startling no matter how many times you go inside. The closed doors have two purposes: 1.) keep the “bad” people in and 2.) keep the outside world just that on the outside. The past week the big door was closed to me. I had broken one of their regulations for volunteers. I actually cared for an individual who was going through a very difficult time–making probably the most difficult decision of her life.
Well, that is not exactly their reason. It is, rather, my intent. I had set up a phone account and she had called me. She had been part of my groups for the past year and was now after spending twenty days in isolation for “cheeking” a pill, assigned to another unit.
So the back story: she is in jail because of the death of her two year old child. She declares that she is innocent. The DA office has offered her a plea deal. She has to decide. Plead guilty to a crime she didn’t commit or take the chance on a traumatic trail which according to her lawyer she has a very slim chance of winning. What is at stake and foremost in her mind and soul is her young son, who she recently was told by her lawyer is going to be called to testify against her. Of course, this is not as simple as these few sentences. But I write this to show that she was in a very difficult place (emotionally, spiritually, and physically) and feeling very much alone. So unaware that I would put my volunteer status at jeopardy, I accepted her phone call.
So I am now “suspended until further notice.” That is the official response. No one has talked to me or told me any information. Oh and don’t call us we will call you.
What this means is that the women who participate in The Journey Home will not have:
- 8 hours per week of trauma-informed programming
- connections with a dozen caring students
- opportunity to participate in mindfulness training
- a few hours four times a week of a stress free group
- a few hours four times a week where they are seen as women who have made a mistake, not a number, not an inmate, not a bad mother, etc. etc. etc.
In addition it means that the students will not have the opportunity to meet and connect with the women. They will not have the opportunity to see first hand our department of corrections. Most of all the opportunity to see the women as women not criminals. And of course all of the items listed above that the women will not have.
And for me?
Well that is my present struggle. the vibrations of that big door closing has rattled my entire being. I have worked with women inside the Northampton County Corrections for ten years. I know from their testimonies, from the words of their other workers, from their families, that I have made a big difference in their lives. Those connections nurture my soul too.
The Journey Home has become my story. Now it seems to be in ashes, I wonder how the Phoenix will rise. The Phoenix being The Journey Home and the Phoenix being me.
* The above image was sketched by a Lafayette student who was part of a course I taught at the college. It represents a 16 year old looking through the slot of her cell door. One of the first and most powerful images etched in my mind and soul from when I started going inside ten years ago.