We had five women attend our class this week. Despite our relatively low numbers, we had a lovely, collaborative class with a lot of laughter and mutual support. We split into two small groups and adapted one woman’s short story (about a child moving to a new town) into performance pieces. It went well, and I’m excited to continue with that next week. But Kat and I wondered, where were the other women?
The women present told us that several of the others were in court, and that one of the women, whom I’ll call Debbie, had gone home.
Oh, good! I said. She’s home! But wait—where is home for her? “Oh, I don’t know,” said one of the women. “She might be homeless. She’s not in contact with her family.”
I couldn’t stop thinking about Debbie throughout our class. Did she have a safe place to sleep? Food to eat? Was she okay? Would she be able to build on the new skills she learned at the jail instead of falling back into old survival patterns? After our class, I asked some of the staff, “what happens to people when they’re released from here?”
What I learned is that the person’s first challenge is to get from the jail back to town, about seven miles away. The jail used to offer bus passes for released inmates, but unfortunately, for some reason they’re no longer able to.
One of the volunteers explained, “Sometimes when they get out, they don’t have any money for the bus, so they have to hitch a ride back to town. Sometimes they have to draw from old behaviors. Sometimes the bus drivers will be nice, and if you say, ‘I just got out of jail,’ they’ll help you out. But it depends on the driver. And there’s a lot of stigma.”
What housing options are there for people who don’t have friends or families to stay with?
“If the person has addiction issues, he or she will need to deal with that. He/she could go to a sober house, but there are often wait lists for those. Women can only stay at SafePlace if they’re mothers. If the person get released early enough in the day they have a chance to get a bed at one of the shelters. But if it’s later they’re full.”
The more I talked with the staff, the more I realized the importance of having programming outside the jail as well as inside. How can we expect people to change and improve if we don’t support them? Of course Kat and I aren’t social workers. We’re probably not going to open a halfway house. But I wondered, I what can we as applied theatre practitioners do to support both currently and formerly incarcerated women? These are ideas I really want to explore in the future. For now we need to grow our programming on the inside of the jail. (You can help us with this by donating at our Indiegogo site. We’re almost halfway to our goal!)
As we drove past the jail bus stop on our way back to Austin, Kat assured me that this woman was likely staying with friends now. I hope so. And as one of the women explained to me, “Debbie has her guitar back now. She’ll be okay.”