POST YOUR THOUGHTS HERE
Welcome to the on-line conversation for Women in Walled Communities, a cluster of three courses in a new 360° @ Bryn Mawr College that focuses on the constraints and agency of individual actors in the institutional settings of women's colleges and prisons.
This is an interestingly different kind of place for writing, and may take some getting used to. The first thing to keep in mind is that it's not a site for "formal writing" or "finished thoughts." It's a place for thoughts-in-progress, for what you're thinking (whether you know it or not) on your way to what you think next. Imagine that you're just talking to some people you've met. This is a "conversation" place, a place to find out what you're thinking yourself, and what other people are thinking. The idea here is that your "thoughts in progress" can help others with their thinking, and theirs can help you with yours.
Who are you writing for? Primarily for yourself, and for others in our cluster. But also for the world. This is a "public" forum, so people anywhere on the web might look in. You're writing for yourself, for others in the class, AND for others you might or might not know. So, your thoughts in progress can contribute to the thoughts in progress of LOTS of people. The web is giving increasing reality to the idea that there can actually evolve a world community, and you're part of helping to bring that about. We're glad to have you along, and hope you come to both enjoy and value our shared explorations. Feel free to comment on any post below, or to POST YOUR THOUGHTS HERE.
..I've searched and searched for news that Elaine Bartlett has returned to prison, as Jessica brought up. Happily, I've found nothing to suggest that that has happened. Given that Dovetta was passionate about Elaine's story being hers, this gives me a little ounce of hope that she will make it out for good, too. Dovetta's impending release hung over our small group conversation today. We said it would be hard. We knew that it would be almost impossible. She will have to stay away from her husband of 21 years, a drug dealer, and her 6 kids, who also dabble in drugs. She will have to make meetings, find work, find herself, keep herself, follow her dreams. She wants to counsel addicts, write a book, stay clean, never come back. I assured Dovetta that I would be one of her first readers and that I hoped to read her book with another class of incarcerated women one day. The smile she gave me after hearing that single-handedly convinced me that I wanted, NEEDED to continue this work next semester. But now that I'm back home and I've lost sight of Dovetta, I've lost sight of my hope for her, too. We've been taught to blame the institution, the forces that be, that keep these women down. And in fact, we've made it our goal to teach them that, too. But does this way of thinking make it harder for us to hope, too? I can't keep out the doubt. The doubt that says Dovetta won't make it because of the forces pushing against her.
What I have to Say
(What I have to Say)
Is Worth Listening to
(Is Worth Listening to)
What I Think
(What I Think)
What I Feel
(What I Feel)
Our Chant (written collaboratively with Riverside Women):
Then I think I am
I am wondering
If being Responsible
Means lowering your Expectations
Filled with Questions
Found this and HAD to share:
"Please make these groups interesting, 'cause I am grouped out!"
— Elaine Bartlett, Bedford Hills prison, September 1997
CHAINED UP / BANGED UP / FELT UP
ROUGHED UP / STUCK UP / HELD UP
PUT UP / SHUT UP
SUCKED UP / TALKED UP
MESSED UP —
THEY MAKE ME
STRAP IN / WALK IN / SIT IN
TUNE IN / MOVE IN / FIT IN
GETS IN / PUSHES IN
COMES IN / PULLS IN
BLEND IN —
TURNED OFF / RIPPED OFF / SHUT OFF
CUT OFF / PISSED OFF / FLUFFED OFF
ALL YOU'ALL SHOULD
CLEANED OUT / WASHED OUT / SQUEEZED OUT
THROWN OUT / GROSSED OUT / PASSED OUT
“You may find that the cell is an ideal place to learn to know yourself, to search realistically and regularly the processes of your own mind and feelings. In judging our progress as individuals we tend to concentrate on external factors such as one’s social position, influence and popularity, wealth and standard of education …. but internal factors may be even more crucial in assessing one’s development as a human being: honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, purity, generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve your fellow men – qualities within the reach of every soul – are the foundation of one’s spiritual life …. at least, if for nothing else, the cell gives you the opportunity to look daily into your entire conduct to overcome the bad and develop whatever is good in you. Regular meditation, say of about 15 minutes a day before you turn in, can be fruitful in this regard. You may find it difficult at first to pinpoint the negative factors in your life, but the tenth attempt may reap rich rewards. Never forget that a saint is a sinner that keeps on trying.”
Nelson Mandela 1975
Letter to Winnie Mandela from Kroonstad Prison
WE HAVE TO READ RADICAL TEACHER AND DISCUSS THOSE ARTICLES!
& we need to start talking about writing together!
Active reading/making connections
give them highlighters to mark the text
emphasize the process…
framing note-taking as a way of putting yourself in the text
things to write in the margins: connections/reflections/
From InClass/OutClassed notes:
A moment here to think-and-talk about interactive reading strategies:
not just highlighting, but marking while you read (what do you mark?),
writing on the text, making connections w/ experiences, other readings;
most importantly: asking questions of the text. You haven't read unless
you've written on/written back to the text.
also to note for further discussion: Sara’s observation that current social science practices
of representation “are not ethical” (or, “to make people anonymous doesn’t empower them”)
I haven't finished typing up quotes but I did have one I wanted to put up here. I also chose a longer passage, thinking that depending on the situation and how many people have read, we may need a longer passage. It can also be shortened or lengthed because I thought these particular pages (189-93) really interesting.
“The next morning, Elaine returned to South Forty at 9:00 am for an all-day workshop about job hunting. She did not think she needed this class, but George had told her she had to attend. She walked into the classroom and sat down in the second row. Nearly every chair was taken, and almost all the other students were male.
The teacher distributed manila envelopes. “This envelope is for documents,” she said. “Birth certificates, ID with a picture, release papers, rap sheet, letter from a P.O., dispositions from the courts, and any proof of your ex-offender status.”
Before South Forty’s counselors could help anyone find a job, she explained, they needed some paperwork. The students pulled crumpled slips of paper from their pockets.
‘I got a copy of my bail receipt,’ one man said.
1) By now, Elaine was thirty-five years old, older than most of the other inmates. Angry young women reminded her of herself in her first years here. Often, she pulled them aside and dispensed advice, urging them to get a job and go to school....Most of the time, though, she just listened to them talk about whatever was bothering them....
Bedford Hills was full of such makeshift families, where one strong woman played the role of matriarch and cared for a few younger prisoners. At any given time, there were at least 10 prisoners whom Elaine considered her "kids"....
Her children were scared of her, and they almost always did what she said....For young women with no parents, a strong maternal figure was exactly what they wanted. "We knew she loved us, Tarsha Thompson,one of her children, recalls. "It was nice to be loved. That's something we were all lacking"....
Just like her own mother, who had always prepared enough food for their whole building, Elaine made sure nobody was left out (p. 103).
2) In Elaine's opinion, clemency was a cruel and unfair game. She saw it as part of the governor's political dance, a way for him to show concern about the injustices of the laws without actually changing them. She did not think the governor should give anyone clemency; instead, he should just repeal the laws (p. 149).
1) "Most of the students stared at the form without writing. The prospect of fitting their complicated lives into all these boxes seemed to overwhelm them" (190).
2) "Elaine walked out the door. Weeks later, looking back on this day, she would have trouble explaining exactly why she had decided to leave. Maybe just because she could. After so many years of being trapped in prison, she did not ever want to feel trapped again" (201).
3) Each newspaper article in which she was quoted sent a message back to Bedford Hills. It didn't matter if only one or two people read it. Word would get around. Everyone would hear that Elaine Bartlett was thriving" (263).
Whenever Elaine spoke, Jamel leaned forward and listened closely. He was quiet, polite, deferential. There was no hint of the fierce temper that the Bing guards knew well. Here on Rikers Island, Elaine’s lengthy imprisonment gave her a certain authority in the eyes of her younger son. She could tell that he was proud of her for surviving such a long prison sentence with her dignity intact. (p. 183)
To (the recovering addicts at Project Renewal), she was a role-model—a real-life example of someone who had made it, who had lifted herself up from the bottom of society and found her place in the workforce. For her part, Elaine hardly considered herself a success, at least not yet—not until she found an apartment where she could live comfortably with all her children. (p. 219)
* each of us will select three passages from Life on the Outside,
and post them on Serendip by Monday night, 12/2 (be sure to include p. #s).
* We will then select the ‘categories’ we want to use to discuss them.
* Hayley will print off the passages, and bring the large sheets
(marked w/ the categories) and tape.
I. SASHA: Welcome everyone, provide nametags, distribute any leftover books
II. HAYLEY: Pass out our passages; give everyone time to read and reflect on the one they got
(suggest the possibility of opening the text and reading what happens before and after your selection--
& feel free to write on this text...)
III. HAYLEY: Get into pairs to describe your passage to one another (if we have enough people @ this point):
say what connections you make to it and what questions you have about it.
IV. SARA: We bringing back the sheet of "power" we made in an earlier class.
We're going to pick some categories from this sheet that describe/summarize the main ideas in our passages.
[SASHA WILL BE THE SCRIBE HERE.]
Tape your passage to the sheet which …
Fits best/describes what’s going on/that your passage is an example of...
* zero-sum game
* the power of love/race/class/gender
V. SASHA: Get folks to talk about why they put their quotes where they did→
with the aim of complexifying these categories
I was just sent this link by a friend- http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1r2q6h/orange_is_the_new_black_author_piper_kerman_here/
Apparently Piper Kerman, the author of Orange is the New Black, announced on her twitter that she would be answering reader/viewer questions on reddit. Some of her answers/the conversation that was provoked seemed interesting so I thought I'd post the link here in case anyone wanted to read. IN particular, I wanted to post her answer to this question: "First of all, I have to say that I love that show, and love the book. But I have one big question. Do you think a women of color at Danbury would have had the opportunity to write a book & turn it into a successful TV show like you did?" (http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1r2q6h/orange_is_the_new_black_author_piper_kerman_here/cdj00ra)
Kerman responds: "I think inequality and white privilege are one of the big topics of the book. Racism is on stark display in the criminal justice system, whether you are talking about policing, prosecution, sentencing, or what happens to people during incarceration. Andrea James has written a book about her own experience in the same prison I was held in: www.amazon.com/Upper-Bunkies-Unite-Thoughts-Incarceration/dp/0988759306
Wow--shout-outs to both Hayley and Sara for thoughtful postings, below...I DO love to listen to y'all think out loud...
I picked the quote I'll use on Friday (and which I offer here as a source for black-out poetry making):
Governor Thomas Dewey granted clemency to Ruth Brown, enabling her to be set free....She left Bedford Hills at age forty-five after being locked up for twenty-one years. She was supposed to be on parole for the rest of her life.
Two years later, she was imprisoned for not obeying the rules of her parole....She had been a prisoner for so long that she felt more at home inside Bedford than outside it....
For years to come, the story of Ma Brown was passed down from one generation of Bedford prisoners to the next. Her story was part history lesson, part cautionary tale. Nobody wanted to lose all contact with the outside world like Ma Brown had...Nobody wanted to discover that by the time they were finally permitted to leave, they had lost their desire to be free (83).
I am in the middle of reading Robert Scott's "Distinguishing Radical Teaching from Merely Having Intense Experiences," and I just had to stop and write some of my thoughts down. While I agree with Scott's assertion that the intense isolation of the prison environment has negative effects on prisoners as learners, I am struggling with some of the assumptions which bring the author to make this conclusion. Scott writes "There is no internet to cross-reference the course materials so the reading process itself becomes isolated. An isolated reading can easily become a misreading. When a teacher introduces an unheard-of subject, the resources they provide may be the only reference that students have." While Scott is not wrong in pointing out the stark lack of resources (such as outside reading materials, internet, etc.) that exist for prisoners while reading, I don't think it is possible for the reading experience to ever be entirely isolated. As we learned from Megan Sweeney in "Reading is My Window," reading allowed for the women on the inside to form what she titles as an Underground Railroad of Reading, through which women exchange books and critical conversation. Rather than reading in total isolation, the women become resources for each other. When we meet with the women from Riverside, I get the sense that similar connections are being formed between our group members during the time in between each meeting.
The other day, I went in to do my internal interview for a big scholarship I'm applying to. For some background, this scholarship is for people interested in public service fields, and I want to be a social worker in the Navy. As expected, I was asked right off the bat "why the military?" and more specifically, why I wanted to be IN the military rather than just work WITH the military.
The answer for me was an easy one: how many times does a person get the opportunity to be a real part of the group that they want to "help"? I feel like I do good work when I go and mentor at Belmont every monday, and I know my mentee really responds to me, but the reality is that I can never be a low-income African-American boy from the city. This is not an identity I share. I know that my inability to relate to him on this most fundamental level means that I can never really be the most effective mentor. I'm missing that level of empathy, and I don't know exactly what he needs. The military represents an opportunity, though. Finally I can avoid the trap that is professional imperialism and serve the population of the military because not only do I know the unique stressors and challenges they face, but because I face them, too.
Of course, this would have been the answer I'd have given in a perfect world, or with interviews whose goal was not to push my thinking. So instead my answer went something more like: "...want to try and avoid stepping into a population and doing my best to help the way I think is ri---"
I wanted every one to know that the full text of the whole issue of
Radical Teacher on teaching in carceral institutions is now available on-line through Pro-Quest,
and I'd like to recommend that we read (@ least!)
Artif Rafay, "An 'Impossible Profession'? the Radical University in Prison" and
Robert Scott, "Distinguishing Radical Teaching from Merely Having Intense Experiences While Teaching in Prison."
I really enjoyed our conversation last Wednesday; coupla other things i want to remember:
* if we go in talking, we're not attending to the "series of lock boxes "we have to go through
--what about the possibility of our "going in silently," the better to attend to what's happening around us?
--the danger/vulnerability of doing so-->"the more casual we are, the more protected we are"
--sara s's project has got us "sensing" the environment there, attending to what it looks like-->
--but flip this: what does the environment think of us?
Anne will print off/bring in the memos to get us/materials into Riverside
each of us will send to Hayley a paragraph we've selected for discussion
Hayley will select one of these and make 15 copies (for the black out poetry exercise)
everyone will bring the sharpies they have (also black crayons?)
Sara will bring multiple copies of the code-switching article;
Hayley will bring all remaining copies of Life on the Outside, along with extra paper and pencils
I. Sasha: welcoming everyone, getting them to put on nametags,
finding out who read how much of the book, and inviting a
general sharing of what folks liked/didn't like/noticed/want to talk about...
one of the students in my critfemstudies class recommended What I Want My Words to Do to You (this in response to our reading Eva's Man last week, and reflecting on our frustrations with her silence...). she found the film life-changing. watching the trailer, i realize how direct it is, how grounded in a belief that the truth can be told. very different than the film i'm imagining sara's working toward making, which sounds as if it will be so much more oblique and evocative...
..I think I can articulate a little better what exactly frustrates me so much about the intense religiosity of our group.
But first thing's first. I was actually really touched by Alicia's prophecy -- both the content and her delivery. Something that struck me in particular was he warning of the distractions that would soon try and derail us from our paths and the responses we should give" "I am doing great work, I cannot come." I often get caught in this cycle of reading about other people (especially college students) and all they've accomplished in their lives. I've effectively convinced myself out of thinking I even have a shot of receiving the Truman, a scholarship I've been working towards for almost a year. But something about Alicia's words boosted me out of that ditch I'd been slipping into. I don't know what it was, and it doesn't seem right to approach her prophecy with an analytical lens at this point, but it worked, so thank you, Alicia.