‘What I learnt in a women’s prison’

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KATIE, my co-facilitator for writing workshop, and I went out of the MTC Lockhart Correctional Facility for Women this evening after our last class of expression.

We passed roses planted by barber fence and looked up at a raw and blessed Texas sky.

The bright orange dish was either falling or rising.

"Wait – is it the sun or the moon?" I said like an idiot.

Katie took a second to answer: "The Sun."

It's easy to get back after spending a couple of hours in a prison. Inside, outside, freedom, power, day, night. But you reorient yourself and see the horizon burn into the darkness.

In 2015, I was invited to "testify" an exams from this Truth Be Customs program, a curriculum that leads prison women to tell the stories of what led them to prison.

The women stood in their white jumpsuits, nervous and empowered, talking about growing up in small rural areas, talking about being mothers, talking about swimming and baking and driving trucks and falling in love. They also talked about being sexually abused as girls, talking about meth, about money, about shame, about fear.

Truth is told is based on the simple idea that storytelling in a secure society is healing; to get all the details out, to have them respectfully heard and to be loved no less to gather the courage to speak, metabolizing the past to good fuel for a new future.

And for someone to be released in a better mind than when she was judged, be good to all.

Entered the plant for the first time, I felt overloaded with what I thought I already knew about prison.

I had absorbed ideas and mythology from television and movies.

I would read a spectrum of complex arguments from scientists and prison reform activists and politicians on exactly how the US prison system has become so corrupt, so bloated, so racist, so counteracted.

I had heard a rainbow of joint statements. That a "criminal" can not really be rehabilitated. That private facilities are evil or that public facilities are evil. That prison teaches imprisoned people to be more criminal or that all prison staff offer the vulnerability of the detainees.

Then I logged in to ease the class (after graduation moved me to tears and shook me up) I decided to try to get in clean pockets empty of pre-defined performances.

I tell what I found out in my first three terms.

The building has perfume of institution – like a nursing home or rehab – any place where people live every 24 hours to each day. Women who wear fine white sneakers have higher status.

Your "time card" is a calculation of your sentence, plus or minus time or bad. "Pull chain" leaves the device. Every woman in my class was a mother. The class was one of the most trustworthy and life-changing experiences I've ever had.

And in addition, I have no better understanding of our judicial and criminal system here in America. Well, I have a few more lines to fill the big picture. And I still know that the system is wildly ineffective, biased, necessary and harmful. But I would have a PhD to see the right solutions for processing data and dialogue.

Especially since no two facilities are the same and none of our 50 states are the same, so most of the time people talk about apples and oranges when they try to reformulate national policy.

What are genuine: Inmates who, on the first day of a new vacation, listened skeptically, poor crossed and ended weeks later, told this room of women things they never told anyone at all, never allowed themselves to think about.

Things they have done, things made for them. Terrors, dreams. We do not solve or chastise each other. We do not recommend a god or a doctrine. We listen. We testify. We do not claim to know what is best for anyone.

And I've got many women to tell me that the class changed its life.

The reality generally seems up and down these days in the US, for many of us. Rights we thought were won will be withdrawn, legislation we thought was impossible, passes. What causes me through this political fog focuses on pure things: I believe in storytelling, I believe in women's rights, and I believe in respect for every human being.

So I can get confused by everything that happens and does not happen in this my beloved and troubled country, but it will not stop me from offering the precious little I have for the one who wants it. It will not stop accepting the kindness and information and education that these women give me.

This article was originally shown on Whimn and has been reissued with permission.

The truth is told is a non-profit organization headquartered in Austin, TX, USA, providing self-discovery transformation programs to women who have or have been imprisoned, resulting in increased self-esteem, accountability and positive contributions to community . Jardine Libaire is the author of White Fur (Hachette Australia, $ 29.99), out now.

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