Thursday, July 22, 2010

Humble, Texas

We passed through Humble, Texas, on our way back from the prison we visited. Humble. (Though the town was pronounced "umble.") That's one way to describe our visit with the incarcerated women on the Find Your Way Home prison tour. (I blogged about this a lot a couple weeks ago, but if you're just tuning in, here's the back story.) Humble-ing, rather. It's a very strange, humbling feeling to realize that people who have been condemned and locked up are really not that different from you... and yet at the same time, you realize they inhabit a totally different world.

I know I'm a judgmental person and way too reliant on stereotypes, but it really surprised me to meet inmates who looked like they could have been my college classmates or my mother's friends. I spoke with one woman who looked a lot like this actress, and had beautiful green eyes. She and her equally "normal" looking friend both teared up as they told me how one mistake steered their lives off course. (I've heard that one should not ask an inmate about his or her crime, so I did not, but these two women volunteered "prescription fraud" and "drunk driving," which I assume meant manslaughter, since I doubt a DUI sans-accident would land you in prison.) Those women told me about how glad they were to have been accepted into the "faith-based" unit in the prison, where they could take classes and do other enrichment activities. While they spoke regretfully about their crimes, they seemed actually grateful for the opportunities for self-reflection and spiritual growth their incarceration had offered.

I studied their uniforms, willing myself to remember, since I was expressly told I could take pictures of those in our group, but not of the inmates. Their shirts looked like one Matt has--a boxy, white, short-sleeved shirt. The fabric looked like some of the white twill curtains I used to have up in our bedroom. They appeared to have a choice of footwear between plain white athletic shoes and black work boots, and some of the women (the ones in a certain unit, I learned) wore a green plastic wristband like what you would get at a club, only thick and hard and fastened with metal grommets, not weak plastic. They wore no makeup, of course, but could wear their hair as they liked. Lack of hair dye, however, revealed how long some women had been there, with their brown roots grown out to the shoulders and four inches of blond on the ends.

We distributed the book by Becca Stevens and the Magdalene women, Find Your Way Home: Words from the Street, Wisdom from the Heart, as the women filed in. As each musician and speaker in our group got up to present, they directed everyone to certain pages in the book, to read a particular passage that had touched them.

Before Don started things off with "The Gambler," he read a passage in the book about those who have been in the ditch being able to help others who are in the ditch now. Don said how he told Becca, "How can I share any words of wisdom when I haven't been in the ditch myself?" and Becca reminded him that of course he had--we all have--it's just a different ditch.
I'm still trying to process that--wondering if it's true--since I don't feel like I've been in the ditch myself. Sure, I've had rough times emotionally--depression, loneliness, etc.--but overall my life has been pretty easy and good. I felt so sheltered and naive as I listened to Tara, Gwen, and Katrina, the Magdalene graduates in our group, talk about walking the streets, having sex with men because they were so desperate for another hit, being arrested for drugs and/or prostitution, and falling into a wicked spiral of despair and hopelessness as they served their time but returned to the same life, unable to escape.
This cycle of abuse (most women engaging in prostitution were molested as children), drugs to numb the pain, then prostitution to pay for the drugs is so completely foreign to my life experience. I've never even smoked a cigarette, and yet they have seen and done and been through so much. The inmates nodded along, understanding completely the situations and emotions they described.
They were moved to tears by the songs our musicians sang--"Bless the Broken Road," "When You Say Nothing at All," "Break Down Here," and more. Luisa Lopez (pictured below with Marcus) played a gorgeous song off her new album "Cigarettes and Other Dirges."  
Becca spoke to the women about hope, love, and the power of community. She told them what Magdalene was all about, and how they could get information and apply to join the recovery community when they got out. She reminded them that they have community there in prison and that they shouldn't squander that, but rather love one another and encourage one another so they could break the cycle when they got out of prison and have a whole, healthy life.

The musicians closed with gospel hymn "I'll Fly Away," and we all had a chance to talk and mingle more before the women were dismissed. I think the women were really uplifted by our visit, and I know I personally felt honored--humbled--to meet them, hear their stories, and offer a word of hope and love. Hope may be in short supply in prison, but they had plenty of love to give us. People talk about "bringing God" to the prison (or another country, or some other place), but I guarantee you, God is already there.

1 comment:

mmr said...

This is beautifully presented, Jessica. The last line is so powerful. I love the image of time being measured by the dark roots of the women's hair.

I love this post, and I love that you are doing this work and asking these questions.



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