Why (Part 1)

Posted: December 7, 2008 in prison, general, teaching, The Hero's Journey Workshop

At Monroe last Wednesday our first hour with guys was appropriately called by Gloria at a certain point, a family meeting. What started as an innocent (always an interesting word when used to describe anything pertaining to prisons or prisoners) conversation about awarding the guys certificates at the end of the program developed into a discussion of why not only the men come to our program, but also why do we, the volunteers come. The question of, why do you come?, was posed to us by one of the more eclectic men of the group. A man who calls himself Motor, which fits his ADHD personality and propensity for talking for too long about matters, which, often don’t clearly relate to the topic at hand. But we love him because he’s aware of his struggles for focus and clarity and allows us to cut him off, keep him on track and joke with him about his circular thinking. The other guys in the group are incredibly patient with him, even encouraging at times.


Back to his question. Why? It is one thing to sit with Gloria at dinner before going up the prison and discuss this very question. Or to talk about it with my workmates, or fellow writers, or guests at pre-Thanksgiving dinner who were brave enough to ask and listen to my response. It’s another thing to have it asked by the men while sitting in front of the men. Let me explain the difference. When I talk to people on the “outside” I have to do a lot of explaining. Explaining about prison, about the men, about their crimes, about my theories (most of which are still developing daily) about the nature of violence as it pertains to humanity and society and so on and so on. I have to paint my audience a picture of prison that does not necessarily meet their expectations. I have push against their beliefs, their own backgrounds and personal traumas and their own fears. Speaking to someone on the “outside” I am on aware of my role of emissary. I speak, to the best of my ability, for the men on the “inside”, not for myself. For their humanity. Not in defense of their crimes, but in defense of their efforts to not check out entirely from life. I speak to shed some light, offer a different perspective and, perhaps, create a small measure of doubt in the mind of my audience about their beliefs on what it means to be an inmate in the US today. I don’t, in reflection, talk much about what I get, personally, out of going to Monroe.


But when it is the men asking and they are all sitting there, quietly, listening for our response, they don’t need to be told who they are and who they are working to become. They know. When they ask, why do you come here? they are asking us to respond from our heart, not from our head. They are not looking for an academic answer, they are looking for an honest answer (and there is a difference). They want to know why them? Of all the people I could be out helping on a given night, why them? What do we get out of it? And implied in that is the undeniable truth that we must get something from it.


This is what I said.


Up here, with you guys, there is not bullshit. Out there, there is so much bullshit. Everyone is pretending, and so for three hours on a Wednesday it is a relief to me to come here and talk with minimal pretense. Up here, you guys don’t pretend you are something you’re not, and that lessens my need to pretend that I am something other than what I am. I appreciate the heart in this group. I appreciate the honesty. I appreciate that we can get to what counts, what matters, what is real. I appreciate that up here there is no argument about the fact that nobody is perfect. We are all gray matter – doing our best to stay more toward the good side of the scale than the bad, but able to recognize that everyone falters – including me.


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