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Updated: Apr 22, 2023

Our class at Women’s today started out with a hiccup. “I’m not feeling good,” she said, looking towards her feet. “I don’t think I can stay.” Her eyes were far gone from the moment our incredibly skilled facilitator, Rebecca, noticed and proceeded to take a moment to connect with this woman's feelings. She asked, “Can you stay and just try to hold your space here with us?” Thinking for a second, she shook her head towards those same feet and then towards the sky — took (and held) her seat for the following class.

And what followed was a lot. There were many little explosions in which we all saw the possibility of holding one's seat in a real way – of being empowered to get above the line (of blame, complaints, justification, and resentment) and recognize our power therein.

The class opened with what would normally seem like a simple question: “How was your week?” – it’s one of the questions that one can never really know or predict where it will land. It is a prison, after all.

“Well, Cindy (a participant in our PoF class last Spring) died last week – the medical staff here are so under trained. They knew what was happening with her and they just let her die.” This is the 3rd death in 3 months that I am personally aware of (from those attending our classes).

Phew. So, yea. Okay.

Well, to that, Rebecca responded by expressing remorse. She opened a space for those in the room who wanted to speak about her life and how it impacted them: “She was kind,” “Caring,” “When I first got in here, I was crying all the time, and she’d come to check in on me – she was the only nice person in here.” This continued for a while, and then we offered a silent meditation for Cindy's passage.

We then broke and did some movement. The women seemed to appreciate the lightness and movement of the “Crow” QiGong we did. It certainly helped shift the energy.

And so begins the Empowerment unit. “What is Power?” Rebecca asks; their replies: “Money!”, “Authority,” “Something that is outside of myself,” “Anger,” “Control,” “Men!”

Rebecca then goes on to make a clear distinction between power-over and power-with.“One main difference between power and emPOWERment, is that I’m holding my power but it doesn’t take away from yours” – a POWERful distinction. She asked us to think back to a time when we felt powerless. Well, given that we are a room full of women and a room full of women in prison, lots emerged.

“Well, being in prison is nothing other then being powerless. Someone can come in my room at any time and tell me that I have to take my clothes off and do a strip search – they tell me what to wear, how to use the bathroom, what time I go to sleep – We have no power in here.”

“DCYF is coming in to see me today – someone called them on my mom, said she was beating my kids up” (all four of them…12, 8, 6, and 2) “and I feel really powerless about that” With tears falling from her chin she looked up at Rebecca who asked her if she could take a breath with her. We all took a breath with her.

Rebecca then inquired: “Now, can you think of a time you felt in your power?” Some women in the room opened up, sharing how passing their GED test made them feel empowered, “being a mom!” said one, with several shaking their heads in agreement. There was, for a moment, light beaming in the room. An amazing display of how when we get into our strength, we are not only getting above the line but also doing ourselves a favor – we are feeling our worth – our innate Basic Goodness. Yes! We are worthy.

Looking around the room during the “raising confidence” meditation was so deeply touching to see tender and chapped hands holding their hearts while Rebecca repeated, “I am good…I am basically good and worthy..”

Life on the outside is hard enough. I can’t imagine living behind those razor wires knowing my children might be taken away from the only person I know. I can hardly imagine someone storming in on me and telling me to take my clothes off. And remember what it was like to be told what clothes I could wear, didn’t feel empowering. At all. As I’m sure, none of this does.

Thankfully, class ended on a high note…with page 56 in our PoF book. The section noted ways we can begin to feel empowered…words like “Gratitude,” “Confidence,” “Forgiveness,” and “Radical Responsibility” filled the air. This was the women's voice committing to something to work with this week.

I called this blog Courage because Courage is the ability to confront fearpaindangeruncertainty, or intimidation  – and that is exactly what those women are doing.

We’ll see what explodes into next week.

Thanks for reading,

Francesca aka Madrone

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