I ran into a woman on the compound a few days ago who was transferred from Dublin. She said, “I know who you are, you’re that blogger lady from Dublin!” I said, “No, I’m the photographer lady from Waseca!” She said, “Weren’t you transferred from Dublin for writing on a blog?” I laughed and told her, “It was something like that.” She told me,” I hate this prison! Dublin was so much better, they let us do whatever we wanted there.” Many of the inmates complain that Waseca staff members are petty; meaning they are detail oriented, and make a big deal out of little things. I appreciate staff members taking our safety seriously, and like that Waseca seems to expect a higher standard of conduct. Prison is diverse; woman are coming together from many different cultures and walks of life. Most of the time we live with people we have very little in common with, and that can present some challenges. I set some ground rules in my room to keep the peace. The first rule is that we all have to abide by the institution rules and thankfully everyone agreed to that rule. The second rule is that we don’t talk bad about one another behind each others back. If there’s a problem in the room I won’t discuss it unless we talk about it openly. I’ve had to have a few uncomfortable conversations, but in the end my room mates have thanked me for being honest with them. One of them told me recently that I have earned her trust. She said, “Portia, I really trust you, and that’s not something that comes easy for me.” I thanked her for the compliment.
Several of the women in our unit spent weeks planning a Halloween party. They made homemade party favors, elaborate decorations, and spent weeks making costumes. Resources are limited in prison, so most of the costumes were made by coloring paper and stapling it to their clothes. One woman dressed up as a giraffe and had Sonia draw yellow spots on her brown pajamas with chalk. Sonia also helped another woman crochet shoes for a genie costume; that costume was a hit! A large group of friends spent hours on Halloween applying makeup, then emerged from their cells in work boots and old clothes dressed as zombies. When I walked downstairs to see how the party was going I saw woman laughing and playing games like pin the nose on the pumpkin. It was fun to see them so happy! They made prizes for the best costumes, and did a great job decorating the TV room! There is little to look forward to in prison; the little things really do mean a lot! A woman in our unit decided to have a prison presidential election on election day; she made a ballot box and had everybody complete a ballot for either Clinton or Trump. I watched CNN every day leading up to the election, but one morning I got caught watching fox news. The woman that caught me said, “I knew it! I just knew you were a republican!” I told her, “you caught me red handed, you aren’t going to tell on me are you?” I think I might be the only inmate on the compound that’s a republican? And by the way, Hillary Clinton won the election at Waseca.
Yesterday we met with our re-entry committee to discuss upcoming classes, and to make sure that we are meeting the education and re-entry needs on our compound. One of the committee members wanted to start a new class on goal setting. She said, “I’ve been trying to get education staff to approve a new curriculum, but can’t seem to get them to help me. Do any of you have suggestions? I think prison staff might have been trained in the art of obstruction.” I laughed because I remember thinking the same thing when I first got to prison. I told the woman that I would be glad to collaborate with her on a goal setting class and that we could consider adding the class to the Explaining Your Conviction curriculum. If we extend the class to include goal setting and writing a mission statement I think it could work.” Teaching women that the things we do today will determine our tomorrows goes right along with what I want to teach. Often women see their time in prison as a complete waste. I try to change that belief and point out that this might be the most important thing we ever do! We have the opportunity to change lives for generations to come! One woman on our committee is leaving soon and shared: “Before I came to prison I considered myself a successful person. I did a lot of good things out there, but always had secrets. I was angry when I got here because I thought that the feds had taken everything from me! My identity was swept away in an instant, and I had to figure out who I really was. It was like a death to lose myself so completely; I won’t lie, the healing process has been painful! Today I’m a felon, but I’m more confident as a felon than I ever was as a so called successful person before I came to prison. I used to have things that made me look good on the outside, but everything was wrong on the inside. Now things are right on the inside, and the titles don’t matter.” After she spoke I said, “You amaze me! You are an inspiration to us all!” She is just finishing a 10 year sentence.
This has been a much better week for me; I felt the very real power of your prayers. Being able to reach out to you with my victories and my pain is such a blessing. It wasn’t a perfect week, but the discouragement has lifted. Sundays are usually my hardest day here. On Sundays the separation from my family seems unbearable! Waseca’s religious services has been a disappointment for me. They too might have been trained in the art of obstruction:) Sunday night was a real struggle. I kept thinking: “Why is it so hard to get religious support here? I can’t visit my family right now, and I feel so alone!” I started to get emotional and decided that I needed to pray. My mind was scattered, and my prayer went something like this: “Heavenly Father, I am weak. I want to turn my will over to you completely, but I can’t even seem to do that. Will you please help me?” After my prayer I laid on my bunk and listed all the things I’m grateful for. I know that focusing on the negative things never works out very well for me, but I can’t always control my thoughts, sometimes the negative thoughts are overwhelming! Gratitude is always the answer, and it worked that night too. My thoughts changed almost immediately, and I felt a calm come over me. Just getting through one more day can be a victory in prison. I want you all to know that I felt your love and prayers this week in a very special way. I’m so grateful for your presence in my life! One of the first things on my gratitude list was the support of friends, families and supporters, and It’s a blessing to call you my friends as I continue on this journey in Federal prison.