“These are not tears of sadness; these are tears of peace.” “I came in here broken; now I am whole.”
These are things shared with us by some of the incarcerated women at Logan Correctional Center, in our first session of Telling Our Stories, Transforming Our Lives, the 12-session covenant group led by UUPMI. We finally, after a negotiation with the prison administration that was strung out over a couple of years, held our first session on January 6, 2018. A historic occasion! There were three of us there leading the session – Cindy Cotton, a volunteer from the UU congregation in Bloomington/Normal; the Rev. Karen Mooney, our UUPMI minister and executive director; and the Rev. Marcia Curtis (that would be me!), the president of the UUPMI board. For the next six months, at least two of us will be going into Logan every other week to lead sessions that we hope will continue to be transformational, not just for the incarcerated women, but for us as well, as we learn to see the world through their eyes.
We found, in our first session at Logan, that leading a covenant group session there is very different from leading a covenant group session at Cook County Jail. At Cook County Jail, there is a lot more chaos. There’s a lot of turnover among the incarcerated women, with the average stay being only about a month, and there’s a lot of turnover in the staff, with a whole new set of Correctional Officers (COs) every 90 days. When you’re in jail, you’re in a transitional space, physically and emotionally – waiting to be tried (because you couldn’t cover bail), or serving a short sentence (something less than a year). We’ve found that some women are there for longer periods of time, as much as a few years, while awaiting trial. But for the most part, the women who come to the covenant group sessions don’t know what’s going to happen to them next – when (or if) they’ll get out, whether they’ll be able to stay clean and sober (so far, the women we’ve worked with there are all in an addiction treatment program), whether their partner will wait for them, whether their children will be hurt by the separation. We’re delighted that we already have enough people signed up for our Circle Facilitator Volunteer Training, on either 2/10/18 or 2/24/18, that we think we’ll be able to go to offering the covenant group every week instead of every two weeks, giving women something to hang onto and to look forward to, something consistent where they know they will be treated with dignity and respect, and where their humanity will be recognized and honored. It matters!
What this is about
Learning asks us to change – so that the world might be a place for all are free to thrive