During one of my first teacher trainings I learned that one of our students killed a baby she had nannied and would not be getting out of prison until 2048.
When I started dancing in Denver two years ago, I told myself that all of the women I was meeting and dancing with were in prison for drug distribution/possession, theft, non-violent drug crimes – maybe assault. I was shocked to find out that, especially in maximum security women’s prisons, I was wrong.
During that teacher-training where I danced with this woman with a 2048 release date, I dreamt I met the parents of the baby that had died. I had been feeling guilty for making her life better when she had caused them so much pain. I was submerged in a pool (the symbol of water was not lost on me) talking with the baby’s parents. I don’t recall any words being exchanged – but more of a feeling of forgiveness and compassion.
Dancing with women in prison has blown my mind and heart wide open. The reality of a 2048 release date, exposed toilets or as one women said, “When I arrived in prison I slept through the night for the first time since I was 13 years old” – these realities are confounding and bewildering.
At the same time, many of these women are suffering from serious mental health issues and untreated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and for the most part, will be our neighbors one day. Do we punish or rehabilitate…do we do both? Such a complex issue with every facet of the human condition piled on top of itself!
A lot of people wonder how I keep returning each month to these various facilities – but it all works itself out in the dance. I don’t want to simplify or even romanticize what happens when we move together in unison – there is just not much room for our stories to linger and haunt us in those uniting moments of the dance.
Lucy Wallace, MA