Aaaaand, we’re back!  We launched our most recent round of classes on Friday, April 8th. The fabulous Shirene Garcia is co-facilitating for 10 weeks, and I’m really excited about working with her because she comes from more of a straight social work background than I do, and she’s already brought an awesome new game into our repertoire: Predator/Prey.  More on that later.

Going back to the jail after a hiatus, I tend to only remember the good bits – the camaraderie, the established creative space, the breakthroughs, the appreciation, the play, the games and the success of a performance.  The less pleasant times tend to get smoothed over – the refusals, the snark, the rude comments and constant fight with the clock.  The first week back certainly slapped me in the face with all of those.  The women sulked into the classroom and a few glared at my suspiciously.  Oh right, I suddenly realized, these women have no clue who I am or what in god’s name I’m going here.  Ms. L reinforced this by interrupting my cheery introduction with, “Who are you?  No one told us what was going on – they just woke us up and made us come here.”  Oh great. 

“No offense, but I don’t want to be here.”  Ms. L was joined by another woman, Ms. C.

“It sounds like you’re really frustrated right now,” I replied and kept talking in this vein as we moved into freewriting and games.  I try to acknowledge and accept the negative along with the positive, especially when I’m just starting again.  We have to earn the buy-in, right?  As much as I’d love to waltz back in and be welcomed with open arms, it’s more likely to be hands on hips and skeptical faces.  Bravado as well – lots of tough talk and posturing even as we were playing silly theatre games.  “What’s your team name?” I asked during one game.  “Five Star Bitches!” Ms. C replied.  Oh lord, am I really going to go with this?  I did, although by the end of the game I was saying “Five Star…” instead.  And the other team named themselves “The Puppy Dogs” (thanks, Shirene) so it kind of worked out.  The attitude worried me somewhat but rather than make a big stand about it, I let it sort of flow around me and only picked a couple of moments to make remarks like, “Okay, that’s crosses my line.”  Shirene and I discussed it afterwards and decided to push back more the next class, if needed.

But we didn’t need to!  Week 2 had several key difference: the women had a class before ours so they were at least somewhat awake, most of them already knew us and it was a short class.  The schedule is different the second Friday of every month, so we only get an hour instead of an hour and a half.  I’d forgotten, of course, but Jennifer reminded me the night before so I got to throw my lesson plan out the window and start again.  Fortunately, Predator/Prey stayed in the mix.

What a fun game!  It’s difficult to explain but there are two teams and everyone stands in a circle passing a rubber chicken and a rubber piece of cake.  The chicken is the predator and the cake is the prey and the goal is for the chicken to “catch” the cake, which involves the team with the chicken crossing the team with the cake.  I’d never played this game before, and but I will play it again!  Adding silly props to any game lightens the mood immediately and helps everyone realize that we can have a different energy.

While we were playing Zip, Zap, Boing (a perennial favorite), I asked my favorite question: What’s the point?  Why are we doing this?  Ms. R said, “Well, it’s mindless.”  She went on to explain that by mindless, she meant that while she was playing, she wasn’t thinking about anything else – about her problems or about people on the outside or about her worries.  Instead of mindless, I would say these games put us in a different frame of mind and relieve some of our daily stress.

Over this ten week period, Shirene and I would like to put together a compilation of writings from our class.  I’ve tried before but this time, I’m thinking of it as more of a message in a bottle type collection that we can donate to the jail library and send to the women’s contacts on the outside.  These women may give me a piece of writing and then disappear, so it’s been difficult to think of how to put this together.  I’m confident that we can do it this time, and I think it’s so important to legitimize some of the truly great writing I’ve encountered in my class.

Tomorrow, we make a big story map.  I’ve never done this technique in the jail so we’ll see how it works

-Katherine Craft

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  1. I like “mindless.” I think she nailed it. I’m thinking in terms of looking for; and finding a place where I can operate solely in the moment with not a thought of the past or future to intrude and bring some kind of “mind” back to this “place.” There’s some safety and trust there too.

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