Beginning… again?

Today felt like another new beginning. We had double the size group of last week, so of course half of the faces were new. This will be an interesting kink in taking the workshops down from twice to once a week. Will there be a huge turnover in the group between each class? I felt like we basically did another introductory class this week – learning names, talking about the agreements, teaching the opening games. While it was fun and helpful, it also made me wonder how we will structure the class to integrate new women while keeping it interesting for those who are familiar with us. I don’t want to get stuck in a rut of playing the same three games over and over again. I need to delve back into my notebooks and find some more fun games with the same purpose. It’s easy to keep using the workhorses – the ones I know will get a laugh and some engagement. Scarier is to push myself out of that comfort zone and risk games that I’m not completely certain of. I push the women every class, though, so a gentle self-shove might do me some good.

This new, once a week schedule also means that I try to shove every idea I have into each 90 minute slot. We didn’t get to the poem I wanted to work with today because we just ran out of time. Flexibility is fine, but I really need to develop a keener focus for each session. Next session, we are ONLY working with that darn poem, so I can be sure that we get to it. No fun, only poetry! We also don’t have a clock in the classroom and aren’t allowed to take cell phones in, so I have no time keeping device except my walkie talkie and the officer at the desk in the hallway.

“Room Nine to Officer X.”
‘Yes, room nine?”
“Um, can you please tell me what time it is… again?”

And then we scramble because of course more time has gone by than we think. I need a little cheapo watch with a tiny fierce voice that tells me to get back on track.

After a soapbox moment from Meg today during zip, zap, boing (which I’ll let her explain in her weekly post), we decided that it’s actually quite productive and helpful to explain the purposes of the games. I get so caught up in them that I sometimes forget to talk about the skills these games teach. As zip, zap, boing started to fall apart today, Meg stepped up with a great mini-speech about connecting one’s body and voice with one’s intention, to really put what you want out into the world. After this, the group was able to regain a little focus, to loosen up slightly and zip each other with some more energy. “Loosen up” is one of their expectations for the workshops, so I think we addressed that nicely today.

Deepening everyone’s understanding of what we’re actually doing in the room will help us move from being merely “the fun group” to a place where we can encourage more self-reflection. Although I am a big fan of fun and play, I agree with Meg that part of this work is learning oneself more fully in order to lead a better life. We can’t mandate what that life will look life (nor would I want to) but we can help women find more possibilities and choices than they knew existed.

I learn more about the women’s conditions in the jail every time I’m there. Today’s conversation centered around shaving. In the middle of class, several women started talking about their “man names”. Some of them have taken on masculine variations of their own names – for fun, for a kind of joke and maybe for other reasons I don’t fully get. Our conversation ended up something like this:

“Yeah, we get kind of mannish in here.”
“Really?”
“Yeah, we can’t really shave.”
“I thought y’all had razor call.”
“At 2:30 in the morning. And you don’t get a shower.”
“So what – you’re just supposed to scrape at it?”
“Yeah.”
“I think I’d rather have hairy armpits than razor burn all the time.”
“Me too.”

Along with their black and white striped outfits, this lack of control over bodily hygiene must be demoralizing. The entire jail has a kind of stale smell, the smell of institutions and of many bodies occupying a space together for a long time. Their uniforms are more light gray on dark gray than white on black and I wonder how long they get circulated throughout the population before they are finally retired.

This lack of comfort and sometimes sleep shows in the women’s faces when they walk into the room. Some come in grumpy, most come in tired and low energy. Everyone’s check-in usually reflects this and I consider it a success when I see the grumpiness ease and the energy rise. Self-reflection and self-betterment don’t seem easy when you’re stuck in a cramped, dingy space. This is the space we have, however and we’re learning more and more how to transcend it while working within it.

-Katherine Craft

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