Conversations with Life, #1

Creative, It's Personal, Life, Reflection, Uncategorized, Writing

Life,

My name is M and I’m a middle-aged single woman who chose not to have children.  I have a wonderful group of friends, work I care about and am good at, access to lots of social activities, a living wage job with an ethical employer, and a safe, beautiful place to live.  As I type all those things, I wonder why the hell I’m writing you, but I’m doing it anyway because I feel trapped and dissatisfied and I need guidance.

Feeling trapped and dissatisfied, in turn, makes me feel like a bad, ungrateful person so let’s say right now, for all future conversations, I’m grateful for what I have, but I want more.  I crave more, and I’m trying to create a path that integrates gratitude and desire.

How do I do that?

Dear M,

I don’t know.  No one does.  All the big brains and hearts and voices have been trying to figure it out since you had more than one cell to rub together.  Remember, I’m only an anthropomorphic idea you decided to write to, I don’t know much beyond what you know, but I’ll offer you this image:

When I look at a person, I don’t see the physical body that you see.  What I see is a light surrounded by an infinite number of intricate layers – like those Chinese lanterns with all the patterns?  Those are all meshed together – thick, thin, lacy, solid, dark, light, permeable, fluid, rigid, and so on.  The light shines out, but it has to make its way through all those layers, through the little chinks and cracks where the gaps line up.

Every so often, everything lines up perfectly and a lot of light gets out – that’s when you get those transcendent pieces of creation or messages that endure and survive and inspire for hundreds and hundreds of years.

I’m telling you this because the desire you feel is to shine more of that light.  You crave the sensation of having more and more clear space for that inner light to expose itself, to shine on the world around you.  It’s what all humans want – it’s the reason you are here.

There is no difference in experiencing immense gratitude for the light that already shines, and desiring more of the same.  That desire is what leads you forward, and inspires you to be more fully yourself.  And that is where the magic happens.

Always,

Life

Romance vs Reality

Change/Transformation, Corrections, Feminism, Systems, Uncategorized, Writing

I write about incarcerated women and corrections education because I see how prison (and all its attendant systems) does so much more harm than good.  The prison system was designed by men, to dominate and control other men, and those practices are even more traumatizing and harmful for women.  Women were never a significant part of the prison population until the early 90s.  Between 1990 and 1995, the number of women’s prisons in the US more than doubled, and by 2010, women made up nearly 7% of the prison population.

There are many reasons for this – ‘tough on crime’ laws, including mandatory minimums and three strikes, and increased criminalization of drug use and non-violent offenses.  What I see is that women are punished for making bad relationship decisions, being poor, uneducated, black, and having untreated mental health and addiction issues.  Literature and reporting reveal that the vast majority of women in prisons have suffered some form of abuse, with at least 25% of them reporting abuse while they were minors.

What does all of this have to do with romance?  Given all of these factors, it becomes almost impossible not to romanticize incarcerated women.  It is far too easy to think of them as innocent victims, as people at the constant mercy of men, systemic abuse and injustice, and their own broken-ness.  While all those things may be true, casting them in the role of victims and martyrs is a mistake.

When we cast people as victims and insist that that they think of themselves in that way, we remove their autonomy and their responsibility for their choices.  This is such a crucial component of working with women that it bears repeating:  We must not cast incarcerated women in the role of victims and martyrs.  When we do, we remove their autonomy, and their sense of responsibility for their own actions. Accepting their responsibility, regardless of the why, is a key step toward understanding that they can make different choices.

My advocacy does not mean that I wear blinders, or rose-colored glasses.  I am keenly aware that the women I work with have committed crimes, wreaked havoc, hurt people, destroyed their families, and left swathes of devastation in their wake.  I speak with them openly about this, because having those blunt, uncolored conversations about accepting responsibility must happen.  If they are to heal, we cannot pretend that they didn’t do terrible things, or that those choices somehow weren’t theirs.

Before I started working at CCCF, I leaned much more toward the romantic view of incarcerated people – men and women.  I had vague notions of unjust imprisonment, oppressive systems, and innocent people being victimized.  I realize now that even though those things are sometimes true, society still has to manage people who endanger themselves and others.  We don’t always do it well, which is why the system needs vigilant watchdogs and advocates and transformation, but we need to do that work with our eyes open and unclouded by romantic ideals.