It was time for the “forgiveness rap” in the weekly class at the Travis County Correctional Complex in Del Valle and the participants were wound up. This was the third class about forgiveness and for the ice-breaker we asked the women to say their name and perform the rap they had composed about forgiveness.
One rap described a bad relationship:
“In the end I’ll be the one looking down on you in years to come. However you should know these are not words of hatred or retaliation. Rather, with you, I’m considering true reconciliation. Although you’ve managed to cause me more pain than I possibly take. Ima just turn my back and let it go for me and my child’s sake.”
We clapped and encouraged each person as they spoke words of strength and confidence. I had to fight back tears at the sight of it. Actually, I often have to contain my emotions in these classes as I hear stories of abuse and neglect or when something like the forgiveness rap happens.
Truth Be Told asks potential facilitators to attend a personal interview as part of a discernment process before they start working in the prisons. There were other potential facilitators in my interview along with 2 experienced facilitators and a coach who had worked many years in Texas prisons. My biggest concern going in was that the women would be cynical and not interested in what we had to offer. They assured me that the women are happy to have something different in their day and appreciate that we are making a special effort to come and listen to them.
Some other helpful advice from the interview was that we shouldn’t fear that the women might become violent during the class. If they had committed a violent act in the past it was during a moment of extreme emotion and was not likely to happen in the classroom. They also stressed that the women need to be seen, valued and nurtured even if they feel they don’t deserve it. This is where change can take place.
When friends and family ask how I feel about the women, I tell them I feel great compassion for them. Some wonder about this compassion, after all, these women have allegedly committed crimes, but I look at if differently. I think we should ask ourselves if we would have done any better if we had grown up in the same conditions as these women. Instead of looking down on them we should remind ourselves that most volunteers have not experienced the amount of sexual assault, rejection, violence, or seen the heavy drug use that they have. Consider for a moment that many were innocent children who have been through hell and had nowhere to turn but to drugs or to people who led them into crime. This is where my compassion comes from.
For compassion to become transformation we must step into these uncomfortable relationships where there is great suffering. Maybe the time we take to listen and provide some tools will make the difference for just one person in the class. What a gift it would be to that person and the world.