Our class in maximum security is really coming together and feeling like a group, instead of a bunch of women shoved in a room together.  Under the advice of my therapist, who specializes in somatic therapy and recovery from trauma, I’ve been “grounding” the women at the beginning and end of each class.  I’m not an expert on this by any means, but grounding is something that has helped me immensely in processing and effectively handling my own emotions without freaking out or having a meltdown.  I used to have a very short fuse and could go from normal to rageful, panicked or extremely depressed in a few seconds.  I see this same kind of behavior from some of the women in my class – a careless word or action can escalate really fast into an intense conflict or into deep anger or sadness.  While it’s also helpful to figure out what’s actually underneath that anger or sadness – is it fear?  helplessness?  sorrow? – I’m not really equipped to lead that kind of work, especially in a group, especially in an hour.  So we ground.

It’s a way of being really present in your body and of soothing your nervous system so that you don’t experience those jagged highs and lows as much.  I’ve been doing this for about 2 years now and even at this point, I consciously do it 3 times a day and then unconsciously throughout the day as things pop up.  How I lead it is: Sit in a chair and take nice slow, deep breaths in and out.  Make sure you’re breathing deeply into your belly and exhaling slowly.  Notice how you’re sitting in the chair.  Feel your back against in the chair and in your mind’s eye, trace the outline of what parts of your back are touching the chair.  Keep breathing.  Now notice your hands and what they’re touching.  Feel the texture of whatever it is they’re touching and the warmth if they’re touching your own body – your legs or if your hands are clasped.  Keep breathing.  Now notice your feet in your shoes.  Feel which parts of your feet are touching your shoes and which aren’t.  Take a nice deep inhale, then exhale all of the air in your body.  Relax and let your body fill with air.  Open your eyes.

It only takes about 2 minutes and has already seemed to affect the mood of the class in max.  There are other factors at play as well, of course and I’m also trying to tone down my crazy energy and be pretty calm (but still fun!), which is interesting because when I get to our second class I need to ramp up the energy in order to keep the women in PRIDE engaged.  We had four new women in PRIDE today which brought our group up in size and enthusiasm, which helped.

Both of our classes went well today.  I really love when women’s talents start to come out, when the group feels safe enough for women to start taking chances and showing what great actors, improvisors and writers they are.  I wonder how they get to express that in their lives outside of incarceration.  Some have told me that they don’t or can’t but I know several women I’ve worked with have been musicians, writers, dancers or actors.

We talked about status again today, and next week we’ll see two character scenes, in which one character has higher status than the other but then for whatever reason, that status shifts.  Some of our pairs will be: pastor/congregant, car salesman/buyer, pimp/prostitute, drag rat/UT student, boyfriend/girlfriend.  I can’t wait to see them.

-Kat Craft


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