We go to the prison as a team. We have Chelsea, a brilliant intern from Gina’s Team, and three community leaders who are observing and may teach future classes. We meet at Paradise Bakery near the prison to get a quick snack (no food at the prison and we will be teaching over the dinner hour) and briefing.
Clearing security to enter a prison is a bit like airport security now. A metal detector and search of our handouts and curriculum. We are only allowed to bring in our driver’s license and bottle of water. Everyone new to prison is a bit nervous. I knew all nerves would vanish as soon as we walk into the large dining hall. The thirty women are waiting, dressed in their best orange. Most are excited; some have curious, skeptical looks. All have been especially selected for this first class but have no idea what is in store. We are all about to embark on a journey of self-discovery.
The first class covers an introduction and the first two principles, Live Authentically and Learn Constantly. One of our students says she has never heard the word “authentic” before. Many inmates have low self-esteem and feel voiceless. We talk about what it means to be true to yourself, especially in prison. How do you learn who you really are when you are so used to camouflaging your emotions? This course is a unique opportunity to find out how to really Live Authentically.
Learning Constantly is another unknown concept. Learning is not easy in prison. Classes are limited and waiting lists are long. You have to be really determined. But it is possible and these women are very open to our suggestions. We use Oprah as a role model. She said, “The whole point of being alive is to evolve into the complete person you were intended to be.” This is almost a new concept, a paradigm shift. But we are giving them materials and tools for this new journey.
The class flies by. At the end we join hands and form a “Celebration Circle” to share our joy. What are we celebrating? We are deeply touched by one woman who says she is celebrating being chosen for the class. “I feel like I won the lottery.” She is not alone. We all share her feelings.
On the ride home, we debrief in the car and share our emotional joy. I know how desperate inmates are for good programs so I wasn’t surprised. The others had no idea what to expect so they are overwhelmed with what they saw and heard. They were surprised that the inmates were enthusiastic and willing to participate. We share their enthusiasm and are riding on adrenalin and excitement. I am exhausted.
Didn’t get much sleep. The next day is our Mingus Day. Up very early, ready to go when the phone rings at 6:30. There has been an emergency at the school and our program is cancelled for the first time in 16 months. We are all disappointed so I decide to keep an appointment with the interns who were scheduled to go with us. We’re all free. Let’s make the most of it. It is lucky we didn’t go to Mingus. Saturday morning I ended up in hospital with that pesky staph infection and had surgery on Sunday. Martha is on her way to Europe for an international women’s conference and we don’t go back to PV until July 21. Time to rest.
Thank God for David. This past year he has been an unexpected caregiver and has done a brilliant job. I’m deeply grateful. When I was dealing with cancer in prison, I felt very alone, especially after Gina died. It is wonderful to be loved and nurtured, to be in a bed with soft pillows, and have access to your own comfort food. I have to heal fast so I can go back to prison. ATHENA awaits…
To be continued…