“I have been called to bring SoulCollage® into this prison.
Awash in grey silence and old rusted keys
I walk by dismal cells moist with melancholy and something overtakes my soul
Something whispers to me without a word
Only the sound of wings lifting the cover of darkness
Entering with ribbons of light.” -JoAnn Flynn
For the past 6 years, I have been volunteering to facilitate poetry therapy groups as part of a spirituality program at a women’s prison in Connecticut. On Wednesday nights I work with women who are serving life sentences. I had already seen how beneficial poetry was for the women in prison and I was excited to bring SoulCollage® to this group.
The women serving life-sentences or very long sentences are a most vulnerable population within the prison. Many have no hope of one day being released. The suicide rate for this group is high. Some of the women in my group have been in prison since they were youthful offenders.
It took several months of working with the officials to get the materials for SoulCollage® approved to bring into the prison. On my first session with the women serving life sentences, I entered the front gate and the officer checked my ID. I was then instructed to walk through the metal detector. As I was buzzed into the next room, the sound of the heavy door closed behind me and a strange sight caught my eye: a row of 4 empty baby car seat carriers on the floor next to the officer’s desk. These little seats belonged to babies visiting with their mothers in prison. As I walked past, my rolling suitcase met with many suspicious glances and was thoroughly checked by the officers. Pre-cut images organized and labeled in ziplock bags, mattboards, glue sticks, plastic sleeves, 2 plastic breyers, composition books for journals, pens, a stack of magazines with the addresses cut out were all counted and checked at the gate. Nothing metal, no electronics and above all, no scissors were allowed.
The officer escorted me to building zero where women with life or long sentences are housed. I was directed to a multipurpose room and the officer unlocked the door for me. The contents of the small room were one rectangular table and about 20 chairs. I had to set up the images on the floor in categories and some on the chairs so we would have room to work at the table.
Shortly after I set up, the women came in. Some of the women had been in prison for 20 years. Their faces were worn and their eyes looked sad but they listened to me with interest as I explained the magical process of SoulCollage®. I shared my deck with them and they perked up. When I told them they would be making their own cards, they cheered! As everyone began to work, I put on a CD of Gregorian Chant to play softly in the background. It was deeply sacred to watch them working so intently on their cards. Not a word was spoken, everyone was engrossed in the present moment and when I reminded them that we had only a few minutes left, they were startled. They couldn’t believe time went by so fast. Two of the women later told me that they never slept so well as they did after making SoulCollage® cards. They also told me they found the Gregorian Chant music soothing.
As I continued the sessions week after week, I was thrilled to hear the women talk with each other about their cards and say, “this is my inner critic,” “this is my addicted self,” or “this is my passionate self.” I was impressed with how quickly the women picked up the language of SoulCollage®. One woman made so many cards, and she found an unusual way to store them. She carefully tore the top off of a square box of oatmeal she got at the commissary and collaged images all over it. She proudly showed me how perfectly her cards fit in this box.
When we had gallery walks with the cards spread out on the floor, the women were so gentle and supportive of each other providing genuine, loving comments about each other’s cards. A Spanish- speaking woman in the group spoke very little English but faithfully came to the class and silently made her beautiful cards. SoulCollage® transcends all language barriers! Another inmate who was fluent in Spanish, interprets for her when she speaks “I am the one who…” about her cards. The women work in dyads scribing for each other and this has been deeply healing as they bear witness to each other’s journeys.
Here at the prison, women struggle to remember who they are. Not only is their freedom lost but their self-worth is lost as well. They are known only by their crimes. Their identity is stripped from them, only a number records their presence. In such a harsh atmosphere as a prison where cruelty, anger and despair are the norm, I am encouraged by the transformation I see taking place through SoulCollage®.
What a profoundly spiritual experience it was for all of us the night we focused on the three transpersonal cards. The women were riveted with the passages I read from Seena Frost’s, SoulCollage®Evolving that presented the Transpersonal Cards. One woman discovered with a deep knowing, that she had already made her Source card.