The “In Spite of Everything, Yes!” class comes near the end of the Talk To Me Level 2 (6 week) Discovery series. It follows the experience of eight weeks in Talk to Me Speaking, Circle, or Movement Classes, where each woman speaks her truth about what brought her to prison.
The class was inspired by the book of the same name written and edited by Ralph and Caroline Steiner. The book was a gift to me from Peg Runnels, creative artist and friend – and the story of how this gift keeps on giving to women in prison is an example of what keeps us committed to this work! Peg has been an Exploring Creativity facilitator at least four times in the past 10 years and has volunteered in other creative ways to support Truth be Told.
The book is full of photographs of real people having real experiences from all over the world, in settings from the Piazza San Marco in Venice to beer joints in small southern towns, from a hilly back yard where a boy hugs a tied-up dog, to a couple of tiny men in yellow slickers watching for bad weather on a rocky, secluded, foggy mountain.
We see people of many colors and ethnic groups dancing, story-telling, flirting in a crowd, sitting at tables, on a judge’s bench. We see spaces where an artist has scattered her tools and supplies on an old wooden table on a screened-in porch, where sunlight falls across empty church pews in a balcony, where a round table is set with paper napkins and flatware but waiting for the stack of dishes to be set at each place. We see children, old people, a baby sitting by his pregnant mother and poking his finger in her swelling belly button.
Here is a quote from the foreword to this book:
The kind of affirmation present in the pictures Ralph has chosen … is something infinitely more powerful than hope…. It speaks of conviction and courage and certainty and “Never say die”.
By the time we push back desks and scatter copies of these pictures on the floor for our class members to choose from, we facilitators have given them all we have to give them. Our classroom has been as safe and supportive as we could make it. We have offered them experiences of acceptance, compassion, shared grief, courage to change, and tools to not only express their past horrors and shame, but opportunities to find the meaning and value in struggles that few of us would have survived any better than they did.
Now, we are giving them a final opportunity to face the reality that when they come home, the cards will be stacked against them. There will still be more drug dealers and pimps eager to see them than happy healthy families to welcome them home – more people offering them illegal ways to get food and lodging than employers willing to take a chance on a convicted felon.
Can they take this gift of pictures of life as it is, everywhere in the world, and choose one that speaks to them? Will they write about their feelings or experiences that support the “yes!” that will keep them moving forward, still acknowledging that there are many other hard realities to move through?
Every time, we are blown away by their choices, and their candor, as well as how amazingly they express themselves. Truth be told, their words reinforce my “yes!” in spite of the inconveniences of being a volunteer for 13 years in an organization with growing pains.
Each facilitator has her own way to present this class. I always emphasize how many artists, writers, and creative people have influenced my life, and been my mentors whether they ever knew me or not. And for every person who has had their creative work published or printed or framed or seen, there have been many “in spite of everything – YES” moments. So teaching this class is my chance to encourage these women, some of whom are remarkably talented, to value what they have to offer enough to start sharing it and set goals for themselves to keep putting it out there where others can benefit from it.
It’s one of my favorite classes to teach – and I feel revived and encouraged, just writing about it today. Thanks for the opportunity, Carol, in your invitation to share in supporting Laurie’s wonderful blog entry below.
by Laurie Salley, Nov. 1, 2012
Note: A photo of a basset hound inspired this story from the “In Spite of Everything – Yes!” Discovery class.
I get off the bus in downtown Houston alone, no place to go and $100 in my pocket. Well, $83.40 to be exact. I had to eat and get me some smokes on the way down here. Never could find a halfway house, most of ‘em don’t take sex offenders, so that’s why I don’t have no place to go. Anyways, I get off that big old bus and walk out of the terminal and what do I see but a dog. An old bassett hound. I ain’t seen one of them in years. That dog, he looks like he’s just sittin’ there waiting on me, like he knew me, you know. Darndest thing! Got no place to put one, nor money to feed one, but he follows right along behind me big as Billy-be-damned. stop and get both of us a couple of cheeseburgers off the McDonald’s Dollar Menu. Hell, if I was hungry, he was, too.
That first night out, well, it would have sure been lonely without that old dog. I’m used to people all around me, all the time – not always the people I want to be around, if you get my drift, but there they all were, whether I liked it or not. To suddenly be all by my lonesome was pretty awkward, so it was nice to have company. I guess I could have found a shelter somewhere, but much as I felt a little lost and alone, I was sick and tired of being cooped up. It was nice and warm outside, considering it was October, and I found me a nice park bench in an out-of-the-way park near Chinatown. I didn’t really sleep much anyway, just looked at the stars and wondered what in the Sam-hill I was gonna do next.
Sam – ’cause that’s what I came to call the dog, Sam – well, he stayed by my side that whole night. Like he wanted to be with me! It was surprising. I ain’t had nothin’ stick by me from choice in a long while. But it left me in a quandary, too. What was I to do with Sam while I was takin’ buses all over Houston lookin’ for a job, a place to live? I couldn’t take Sam with me, and that was the hard truth.
The next day, heavy-hearted, I walked Sam back to the bus station. I bought him another cheeseburger on the way. He stayed when I told him to, and didn’t follow when I left him there. It was sure hard to go – but I figure he was an angel sent by God to make my first night out a little easier. I imagine someone else will need Sam’s services soon.