A few weeks ago, Kat wrote about a moment during one of our games when I stepped up on a soapbox of sorts. We were in the midst of a round of zip zap boing, and I paused the game to chide the women toward unifying their voices and their bodies, encouraging them to practice strong vocalization combined with strong gesture toward the goal of effective communication.

It can be difficult at times to verbalize how and why the games we play are important and effective tools to train communication skills. When we practice making large, sweeping gestures and loud, resonant sounds, we practice expressing ourselves with conviction. We leave little room to be misunderstood. We are not expressing ambivalence. We are announcing and affirming our physical presence in a space and demanding to be both seen and heard. This takes courage, it takes confidence, and it takes conviction.

We’ve had a full few weeks, with a visit to the PRIDE women in Del Valle by Fulbright scholar R. Purnima, who taught the women a song with a haunting melody from Mysore and shared her experience of creating performance work in prisons in India. We also led an Expressing Creativity workshop, focused on exploring dreams, for women incarcerated in Lockhart, Texas, through Truth Be Told.

Each of these sharings has created space for laughter, for community-building, for women to explore their highest ideas of who they are and who they want to be, not limited to or by their current circumstances. In our rendition of Michael Rohd’s well-played game “Minefield” in Lockhart, we identified a dream and explored obstacles to achieving it. The dream chosen by the group of nearly twenty women was to travel to Paris—France or Texas, didn’t matter, just to any place called Paris! We littered the space with physical objects as well as people representing obstacles ranging from the parole officer to a shopping mall to reservations. One woman, eyes closed, was led through the “minefield” from one end to the other by another woman who told her where to move, how many steps to take, how big, etc. The dramatic tension was thick, and the entire room erupted in cheers when she finally made it to Paris, Anywhere!

These games make space for imagination, encourage laughter and fun, but they also train women to express themselves with conviction. I’ve been pondering this word for a few weeks now, and it is more than a little ironic to me that the women with whom we are working have been convicted (note the passive voice here! (and in reality, not all are serving sentences, some are awaiting court dates, and we don’t know details of their stories, but go with the metaphor!)) but they still need to learn, to practice, to rehearse expressing themselves with conviction.

According to one online dictionary, the first definition of “conviction” is “a fixed or firm belief.” Definition number three is the one that refers to incarceration. It is my hope for these women that their circumstance, or “state of conviction,” provides them the opportunity to define, refine, and practice expressing with clarity and confidence their own, individual values and beliefs.

–Meg Brooker


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