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There Is More Right With Me Than There Is Wrong

07 Apr

IRightWrong_scalen our communities, whether we realize it or not, we live among all types of people, from the kindest to the cruelest, from the most functional to the most severely affected by mental illness, addiction, etc. Among us are a range of people who would never consciously break the law to those who seem to have no regard for the law. In most cases, we choose to live where we feel safer, more comfortable to go out into our world and then return home; where, typically, we actually are safe and comfortable. According to budgets, we decide what we will eat and when and where we will eat it.  We decide what we do in our spare time, what time we go to bed, what time we arise, and what clothing we wear. There are so many decisions we are free to make for ourselves in the course of a day. Can you imagine having no control over these kinds of decisions?

Perhaps everyone should go inside a prison at least once.  As described in my previous post, the process of getting into a prison is unnerving.  Once in, it is a very unnatural environment.  At the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women (MCIW), you see small groups of women dressed very much the same…jeans, gray t-shirts, denim shirts, & sneakers.  Most seem as if they haven’t given much thought to their appearance in a while.  Some of us may think the same mix of personality types do not exist within prison walls, but they do.  Especially in prisons that house all levels of offenders (like MCIW), from the worst (murderers) to the non-violent offenders.  Here, you don’t get to decide where you live or what you eat or when you eat. Here, most of the day-to-day decisions are not yours to make.  You do get opportunities to request to attend events or programs within the confines of the prison.  These programs are carefully chosen and approved by the Warden.

After the last WMF Conference Steering Committee meeting, Warden Chippendale invited us to attend a special event in the gym.  When I heard it was related to National Crime Victims’ Week, I thought it would be similar to a previous event I had attended there:  an event in which some of the victims attended and spoke of the pain they suffered.  The offenders were given a chance to apologize and make a statement.  It was a powerful experience.

But this event was different.   The offenders became the victims for a couple of hours.  The gym was filled with female inmates who could relate to the topic in some way.  They listened intently as Serenity’s Door  President and CEO set the tone of the program with 3 simple words:

  1. Empowerment
  2. Resilience
  3. Justice

 

You may think a warden would not want the inmates to hear about empowerment.  After all, prison is designed to take away your power.  However, only when one feels empowered can she truly change her life.  With empowerment comes responsibility for protecting yourself and for making good decisions.  Each of 5 presenters told her story or gave new ways of healing old wounds offering hope for a better future.

One of the speakers drilled down on the meaning of justice.  She read the following definition: ‘to be treated fairly by others (including systems)’. Of course, that stirred the room, but everyone seemed to agree it is what we all want. There was no explanation needed for resilience.  One of the inmates said the audience knew more than anyone what it means to be resilient! One speaker had everyone repeat her mantra:  “There is more right with me than there is wrong. Focus on the best, minimize the effects of the rest.”  I think we can all use that thought at times in our lives, when we need to move on from something.

The types of programs Warden Chippendale brings to the women in her facility throughout the year make a difference.  If you haven’t been taught the skills required to make a big change in your life, a 2-hour program won’t be enough.  The WMF Conference provides a crash course in how to identify needs, make a plan, find resources, and put that resiliency to good use!  It doesn’t make it easy — but perhaps more achievable.

The Women Moving Forward Conference, a collaborative Reentry Program for Women at the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women, conference was initiated by the National Association of Women Judges(NAWJ) in 2008 and has been held annually since.  It is funded through contributions from companies and individuals. To support this effort, go to http://wmfmd.org/donations.html.

 

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