The Journey Home has been providing the women with programming since 2008. It has involved activities informed by the theories and practice of expressive art therapy, trauma-informed practice and restorative practices. I have facilitated groups both inside and outside the facility. Students from Lafayette and other LVAIC colleges have participated as volunteers, in internships and honors theses. Lafayette professors and staff and other community volunteers have also participated in the activities of The Journey Home. For eight years, women in work release and those who have returned to the community participated in activities at a community art studio on N. Second Street in downtown Easton. I am presently relocating the community art studio to S. Sitgreaves St. and that space will be open in March. The women have produce hundreds of pieces of art through these programs- murals, journals, mosaics, art books, greeting cards, etc. Through these activities, the women have reported new ways of thinking and being in their lives and in the world.
Writing Life Stories
Based on narrative practices developed by Michael White & David Epston, this group is designed to provide the women with writing exercises that will give meaning to their life experiences. The purpose is to:
- Assist the participants in separating their identities from their experiences and problems
- Open possibilities to re-story experiences by looking at them from a difference point of view
- According to recent neuroscience research (Siegel) it is through the process of writing and re-authoring life activities and group discussions participants have the opportunity to develop new neural pathways and the healing of past trauma.
This group meets weekly on Tuesday evenings. Participants include eight women from the unit, eight Lafayette student volunteers, and three community volunteers. Each participant, including the volunteers, writes short life stories based on prompts during class and as assignments. Poetry, art, and other forms of creativity are also included. The stories will be compiled in an anthology for the participants.
On Thursday evenings, seven Lafayette students join the women in a two-hour session of Zen Coloring. Participants gathering at the tables in the education room and are provided with coloring pages, color pencils, gel pens and brush markers along with Zen coloring pages and water color paper. The session begins with an opening ritual and review of the group agreements. The entire session is completed in stillness and mindful coloring. This mindful coloring provides the participants with the opportunity to:
- Change how they respond to their environment
- Learn a new way of being in the world
- Practice restraint and train their mind to be present
- Develop new neural pathways
Some of the participants have designed coloring pages for the other women to color. At the end of the session, each participant expresses how the experience has influenced her frame of mind and emotions.
Friday evenings the women meet for a restorative circle. This circle is based on the theory and practice of Restorative Justice and specifically Kay Pranis. The circle process creates a space of healing and learning through a collective group process. The group opens with a ritual and individual check in. The group reviews group agreements and the use of a talking stick. This is followed by several go-arounds during which each woman is given the opportunity to express what is on their minds and heart. The circle provides a space to be visible and heard. The circle is closed by a ritual and final go-around.
Group agreements include:
- Each member is treated equally and with respect
- Each member has the opportunity to speck without interruption
- Each member tells their own story
- Each member is given the opportunity to speak and listen in a deeper, more heartfelt way
On Sunday morning, the women gather for a new program that I call “Creative Mindfulness.” The activities are varied and many times based on issues that may come up during the other sessions. For example, one week the women were deeply moved by a poem that was shared during the Tuesday group. So on Sunday we made artwork based on that poem. I then made copies of the poem and the art and each woman received a little book that reflected that work. This is also a time that I have introduced mindfulness practice techniques that the women can use to help them deal with the stress of being on the unit.