Last Sunday I taught in prison in the midst of deep sadness and heartbreak over the ending of my relationship. In our training, we were advised not to share the personal details of our lives with the inmates at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility (DWCF) for our own protection. So, at the beginning of class I just shared with the ladies that I had had a very hard week and offered that we ALL give it over to the dance. They shouted out in agreement, “Yeah, especially with the holidays coming up!” with their fists in the air.

As is often the case, I get just as much out of dancing with these women as they do from us volunteering our time. The majority of incarcerated women have endured trauma, suffered from mental illness, self-esteem issues, violence and poverty. They arrive in prison traumatized with very few coping skills; how are they coping I ask myself?! How could they possibly be smiling and sharing how happy they were about the article in the Daily Camera? What part of themselves are they digging into to find joy and gratitude when I can barely stop crying?

One women has been at DWCF since 2009, has four children on the outside and had a stroke while serving time in prison. She greets me every time with a smile and can’t wait to be a part of the teacher training. How is she handling her devastating situation? I can barely focus and take care of myself, let alone deal with the rage, despair and hatred I’m feeling; and I’m surrounded by friends who support and shower me with wisdom about my loss.

How do they cope?! We are starting a teacher training program at DWCF in January and I want to ask each of them what gets them through a typical day? These are the people who should be giving inspirational talks!

Dance To Be Free founder Lucy Wallace connects with one of the female inmate participants during a dance teacher training in prisonWith prison reform we are dealing with the most invisible and vulnerable population in our country. We need to support these women, who for the most part are going to be released back into society. As LT Ross from DWCF said, “Most all are going to leave, and when they do, do I want them institutionalized or with a set of skills to fit into society? That’s why volunteers are so important. Otherwise, they just interact with staff and family, in a controlled environment.”

We need to bridge the gap between us and them. These women could easily be judged as “monsters” as some were after the article in the Daily Camera was published. Most everyone who hears about Dance 2B Free opens up their hearts with deep compassion; every so often someone expresses doubt or fears, “These women who are in this article killed their child.” No one is addressing what led up to their horrific fate. Finally research is showing that the population of women in prison is rising and there is an absence of treatment programs for trauma being implemented due to legal barriers and the culture of being in prison. Who is going to openly attend a trauma class in prison where vulnerability is the least desirable experience.

By dancing together we can heal our pain, no matter the scale of severity – together free of our past trauma, stories and judgments!