Small room, big emotions

More thoughts on our new class for women in maximum security:

  1. Gosh, that room is small. It’s still better than working in the dorms (like I did two years ago), where the women can leave the class and get into bed if they want but it’s still small. The women in PEACE have lots of pent-up energy, and it feels almost explosive in that room. Not in a dangerous way, just in a surprising and hard-to-channel kind of way. 13 of us in that room today, and we all faced some challenges. On the way home, Michelle said, “I wish we could take them all to a farm somewhere – with fresh air and space. I bet that would help.” It certainly would! No farm in our future, though, so we make do.
  1. We brought in our agreements, which we discussed last class – now we have to somehow build the group’s maturity enough so we can all adhere to them. By “maturity”, I mean the kind of group intelligence that emerges when a class gets to know each other and starts working towards common goals. Last class was the honeymoon, but the honeymoon’s already over and we’re facing a group of women who, while eager to participate and happy to be in our class, aren’t quite sure what our boundaries and expectations are yet. I haven’t had to incorporate much classroom management into my classes in a long time, but we need to bring that back. And I thought this would happen, because building the group and earning the buy-in takes time. We can’t expect respect merely because we show up. A lot of people show up – staff, officers, counselors; at this point we’re just two nice white ladies with a boombox. The women need something from us as facilitators that they can’t quite express, and we have to balance that with what we need for the class to actually function.
  2. We did Humpty Dumpty with the PRIDE women today and it was so much fun! That exercise works so well for our classes at the jail. There were so many egg puns today (“He has a dozen kids! They live in a carton! His mom’s a chicken!”) and really fun characters. Michelle ran it and I got to play a haughty princess who wanted Humpty off her wall. The talk show was a hit as well, with one Humpty accusing his friend of pushing him off the wall. “You tried to push me off, but I roll. I roll!” A big contract exists between PRIDE and PEACE right now. We’ve been involved with PRIDE for so long that we have an established culture there and when new women arrive, they’re folded into that easily. We have to build that culture from the ground up with PEACE.
  3. We need to find games that get all that madness out, that let the PEACE women release some of that pent up energy before we move into calmer, more focused tasks. Michelle and I will be thinking about that this week, for sure. We did see some really amazing things in that class – I have never seen a class at the jail catch on to Zip, Zap, Boing so fast. Usually, when I add the Zap, the whole game falls apart but they were going at such high speed that I almost couldn’t keep up. When someone messed up, everyone went with it and kept the energy and the game going. It was really delightful to see.
  4. So we’ve got challenges – who doesn’t? We know that all of the women we work with face challenges that we may know about, but often don’t viscerally understand. As long as we can build towards a space where they can feel safe and respected, I’ll know we’re heading in the right direction.

-Katherine Craft


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