From the ferry: 9/3/08

Posted: September 4, 2008 in from the ferry

My commute to and from the prison includes a twenty minute ferry crossing plus however long I get to sit in line to wait to board. It’s a good time to reflect on the night at Monroe, to record first impressions and document those moments that are resonating with me the most before I have a chance to filter them or make them academic. I’ll post these thoughts from the ferry each time I go to Monroe.


Here’s what is sitting with me on the ferry ride home tonight:


This morning I was distracted and caught only a bit of a story on the radio about a penitentiary locked down over the weekend. I thought it was Monroe (it wasn’t, it was Walla Walla) and it was strange to notice that my first thought was worry for the guys in our group. What if one of them was hurt? Or worse perhaps, what if one of them was a part of the violence and I found out? How many people are out there who worry about the men on the inside? How many people can see a face when they hear on the radio that units have been locked down, that men spent the weekend in their cells or that inmates were hurt? I can.


In the group tonight I am worried at first because two of our “regulars” had not shown up. They arrived an hour late, much to my relief. I realize that the more I get to know these guys the more it matters to me that they are doing the best they can on the inside, that they are at least safe from week to week. I see them working so hard in the group and I get to know them beyond their crime and it is difficult for me to imagine the rest of their daily life, how quickly it can change and how little control they have over any of it.


I asked one of the group members if I could share on here what he said tonight. He has an eight-year-old son and he didn’t know how to write to him from prison. “What do I write? The food sucked, again?” So, he’s been writing him stories, stories about a ten-year-old boy who lives on a farm with his dog, Dakota. He’s written five of these stories so far, the last one for his son’s birthday last week. The gift of story.


Tonight we talked about the hero, having crossed the threshold from his ordinary world to his new world, encountering new allies and enemies and facing new tests. You can’t help but imagine prison as a new world where you must learn new rules (quickly) and you better figure out who your friends and enemies are fast and the tests never stop coming. The biggest test, as one of our group members said a few months ago, “You gotta work damn hard to come out of here better than you came in.”


I may be naïve, but I feel like the guys in this group are working so damn hard, both on their writing and simply to survive. 


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