Jail Mamas


I had a loved one end up in this place; my perspective shifted dramatically. I’d never stepped foot in a jail or prison, unless you want to count my tour of Alcatraz. I had no idea what to expect. Here’s what I found: humanity, humanity in many of the inmates, humanity in the visitors showing up to support them. Being an empath, I also could feel great heaviness. So I went as much as I could and wrote as much as I could and took phone calls as much as I could because the fact is everyone in there needs a little bit of Light. (All of us out here do too.)

If you’ve never been in this place, you might take for granted that every time you step out your door, even if it’s a short walk to the car, you get a breath of Light. The air cleanses you just a bit. It helps us to keep up with all the other garbage that floats in and out of our days. In there, there isn’t healing air.

I also learned that many people there don’t have a strong support system outside, or their families don’t have enough money to travel or visit or take phone calls. And so, this seemed clear to me: I need to go in and bring Light. I do it by leading a writing workshop at the local jail.

I worked with the men for some time, and recently I’ve been working with the women: jail mamas. What’s incredible is that they bring me Light too when I’m there. It’s so moving; each time I leave there I’m literally a different human being.

Yesterday I brought half of my St. Lawrence class in with me. I did a brief reading, and then we wrote letters to our former selves. Holy wow. If anything about that idea seems silly to you, I challenge you to get out the pen and paper and do it.

These women, all but one, are mamas; all are so open to share their work and experiences. They read their letters, and though each was different, they all resonated with me. My SLU students connected too, but I think my connection was so intense because their stories were all about being mamas.

What resonated the most with me was one woman who talked about her family and talked about how much she tried to make everything perfect. When the family went out, the kids had to have on the “right” outfits, and their hair needed to be combed. Dinners had to be perfect. She was trying to create the shit we saw on the television in the 60s. Families are perfect just because they are, not because they do everything “right” and please all their neighbors. That clear need for approval resonated with me, also the urge to control, to get it “right.” I don’t know why she’s in there, but I can tell you from her letter that it took this trip to this place to get her to LET GO of control and realize that each moment is a miracle exactly AS IT IS.

I have never lost my freedom in that way, but I can imagine that if you walk away not realizing the value of each moment, then you might have missed something while you were there.

There was one underlying theme for all of us, inmates and college students alike: there was a fear of not being good enough. There was a deep craving in all the letters for approval. What else was also true for ALL the letters is that each and every person writing back to their former selves had ALL the answers they needed to thrive in life. Isn’t that the truth?

Write a letter to yourself. Give yourself a little advice, a little encouragement. You’ll realize that there are different aspects of you, and the one that has the answers and knows your path is the one you have to start listening to.

It’s beautiful to hear how people learn and grow. It’s also heart breaking because there she still sits. But it’s a victory because she sees. It’s amazing that sometimes buried in darkness, we can still see. It’s simply because there is still Light, even if it is dim. The Light is INside us. We just have to accept that Truth and let it abolish the darkness.

Another day of gratitude. It’s a choice. I’m choosing miracles.




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