One of my great joys in working prison workshops is the unfolding of people and their willingness to open up and shine. Friday evening, during our first session, everyone comes into the room with a wary attitude. Sits down, doesn’t talk, crosses their arms, wanting to be proven right that this is just some dumb workshop. However, it gets them out of their cells for the weekend and they can have contact with outside people.
Actually, most of them are there for the certificate for their files to make them look like they are trying. Many state they had no intention of becoming really involved.
The metamorphosis starts the first night. We have guidelines, not rules, and we give input to those guidelines. Then we help each other come up with adjectives to go with our names – and help each other remember. We’ve started building community. People find out they aren’t going to be deserted and made to look foolish, but there is a safety net of support. Then during brainstorming, all answers are welcome. We find a whole variety of what is violence, and what is non-violence.
Already the transformation is happening – and they leave at the end of Friday eager to come back Saturday morning and put in a 12 hour day.
They see the outside facilitators being participants as well as facilitators. They see us demonstrate working as a team. They see outsiders respecting and deferring to inside facilitators. They start feeling valued. They get to talk about things they haven’t said before. They get validation. I keep saying “they”, but it is every single person in the room, including all facilitators.
We see people touching each other through Lite & Livelies. We sit down as a community to break bread together. People can participate in group activities, small groups and one on ones. Everyone is more comfortable in one of these settings than in the others.
We are all exhausted by the end of Saturday, but eager to come back for more on Sunday. Gifts of poetry, art & music are brought in to share. By the time we leave on Sunday, men are hugging each other, shaking hands with people they just met, writing affirmation posters for all and eager to sign up for the Advanced Workshop.
I remember one young man who said during a Saturday session, that this felt like his home and how strange it was to go back to his unit. He couldn’t believe in such a short period of time that he found such comfort in a group of strangers – and felt safe.
It has been 2 years since I have been able to participate in doing a workshop. Just writing this story puts me back in that beautiful spot of seeing myself and others change before my eyes and I yearn to be there again soon.