On Tuesday night we met for our 11th session of the teacher-training at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility. Our 3 teachers in training were not in a good mood! Michelle arrived pissed off at Sarah about a comment Sarah had made one week prior to us meeting. She was festering about this comment for 7 days. When we sat down in a circle to check-in, Michelle unloaded on the circle, aiming her discontent at Sarah.

These 3 women have been in prison for years; they are not in there for light reasons. I had never experienced such tension and visible anger till Tuesday night. Michelle went off saying she was going to quit the training that she, “Doesn’t have room for negativity…there is enough negativity in this place…I’m done…”

Sarah had apparently said, she wanted to choreograph on her own after weeks of choreographing as a group. Michelle did not like that. Cherie and I sat there and listened for minutes and minutes as these three needed to process gossip, triangulation, threats to drop out of the group and so on.

To be honest, I generally regret getting my master’s degree because of the heavy duty $80,000 debt I took on. Since I graduated I have gone onto owning a dance studio, teaching and now dancing in prison. I don’t always pull on the three years of studying Psychology at $25,000 a year.

But on Tuesday night – I felt my degree more than ever! Although Dance 2B Free is in prison to dance – not to process emotional turmoil – we needed to process this drama quickly. I spent a few minutes normalizing what they were going through. I said, “In group dynamics we tend to go through phases of ‘forming’ ‘norming’ and ‘storming’…you all are storming and that is OK.” I said, “You are also triangulating as any set of three’s do – I see that even in my friendships.” “Tension can be here.” Although they were still visibly pissed, they laughed and Michelle called me a “shape shifter.” Not sure what that means but the mood had lifted and we moved onto stretching and dancing.

Tuesday was the first night I felt like I was in prison. Although I could hold the space, listen and validate these 3 inmates – I was aware of how much tension they are managing and that there were no guards around. Considering the intensity of their everyday lives, they handled an awkward night with a lot of grace. Sarah apologized and took ownership of what happened and Michelle calmed down after she vented for 15 minutes. By the end, she was high-fiveing Sarah saying, “I love you man.”

I’m grateful for the experience as we grow into Pueblo, CO and York, NE; we may be facing a lot more tension and disagreements as we expand. I thank Naropa for giving me the insights and practice of the very simple but profound act of letting things be as they are.