From the moment I opened up our initial circle of 24 women in the largest women’s prison in the country – I was stunned by their eagerness, humor and desire to grow. As each woman went around the circle and introduced themselves, the others listened, laughed and related with a depth I don’t see every training.
This was one of the largest groups we have ever worked with so I was prepared for some chaos, talking and possible competition or cliques – yet, they surprised me over and over. They were absolutely ready for this training! They were hungry and grateful for every bit of self-growth they could get their hands on.
A younger white woman described the old cliché of a butterfly’s metamorphosis in a way I had never heard: “If you try and help by opening the cocoon it will die…you can’t help them get out of their cocoon.” An older woman who was in prison for the 4th time said: “We need the Yin and the Yang of being seen for what we have done to being seen for our essence, for who we are.”
What is happening?
Then there was the Hispanic, masculine woman who spouted off wisdom but was shy about sharing her own poetry. Or the shy white woman who had others read her writing/poetry.
When we played Gabor Mate’s video on addiction being the result of pain, not genetics – they listened whole heartedly and many wiped tears away. They loved seeing the other inmates on video tell their stories from NE & HI since they all share such similar stories and pasts.
They talked about the true meaning of freedom and that as long as someone can take it away from you – it’s not freedom.
Oh my god.
The black women teased and encouraged me when I tried to do the Harlem shake, Molly whip and Jerk with my “white girl” stiffness – as we danced to Lil Wayne’s Uproar. They were humble, proud and kind.
The last day we had the women free dance to some recognizable pop songs in groups of 2’s, 5’s 8’s and so on to get their “free dance” muscles warmed up. After about ten minutes of shy, playful and silly dancing I put on “Good bye” by Andrea Bocellii. We had the women dance like humming birds as they made eye contact with each other and danced away to another woman, gazing into each other’s eyes and dancing on.
After a minute or so this, older white woman started to cry in the middle of the movement and then she stood still. The women came up to her and danced on or stayed by her side. Afterwards, she said she felt love pouring out of the women – even the women she didn’t know well. She felt love pouring in all directions.
Another older woman who was missing most of her teeth was weeping saying that she has had a lot of death and grief in her life and that she didn’t get to say good bye to her loved ones and that she was now releasing her pain.
As we closed our 3 days, two women came up to me who had been fairly shy throughout our time. One of them had apparently just been on death row and was now serving a life sentence. The other woman said her mother was currently on death row. They suggested that I dance with the 3 women currently on death row saying they could really use the movement.
We were told we had quite a few lifers who I’m sure did something horrible and yet once again, I felt safe, inspired and filled with hope. Once again, women in prison are teaching us about the true meaning of freedom and showing us what freedom looks like.
The warden, chaplain and Substance Abuse Unit staff came down to watch our final piece – “Uproar” choreographed by the women. I was cringing over the lyrics although I had the clean version – “f*ck” is on repeat throughout the song. Yet, the staff stood there with supportive smiles and an eagerness for us to return in 2019.
As opposed to some nightmare Air Bnbs we’ve had in the past, we were nourished by this beautiful apartment located on a horse farm in the middle of the horse farm capital of the world! Our hosts were lovely and I loved sleeping near such majestic animals.
The water oaks were dripping with moss and the late October temperature was balmy. This max prison offers equine therapy; I had to wonder if we were reaping the benefits of these women working with horses or if the land was just healing…because this week blew our mind.
I desperately needed some juice and hope after months of feeling so bogged down by money running out, my people pleasing habits, the stress of traveling and the “prison” of managing a non profit. 501c3s are TIGHT! The struggle is real and the red tape is nuts for what is kosher and what is not allowed.
Vadim and I started to feel like we were being punked with the amount of obstacles we would hit when traveling – from misreading our seats for the gates or getting our windshield cracked by a rock after turning down the god forsaken Enterprise insurance. I started to wonder “Why so many challenges when I’m trying to do good?!!” But Florida filled me up and put it allll back into perspective.
This is a passion project and brings up a ton for everyone involved! The dark and light – there is nothing subtle about Dance To Be Free. The magic is huge and roadblocks are for real.