Pongo Project Journal

Sharing stories of our work with teens
May 21
Thanks for the Rose

This essay is about the rewards of Pongo’s work. I hope more of you will help people to heal through self-expression. When you climb that mountain with someone, through a fog of pain to a clearer summit, there’s pride in the achievement, and closeness in the transformative moment you share.

As I’ve mentioned in this blog, choreographer Pat Graney has been creating performances in women’s prisons, with dance, writing, and art, for 15 years, as long as I’ve been working with youth in juvenile detention. I had the privilege of contributing to the writing component of Pat’s “Keeping the Faith” (KTF) this spring at Mission Creek Corrections Center.

There were two performances of KTF on Friday, May 7, and Saturday, May 8. That Friday, the performance was scheduled for 7:00 pm. At 5:00, Pat was still immersed in her creative process, making changes to the dances, waiting on costumes, and sorting through a one-foot stack of paper to choose final edited writing for the women to read. The women, who had never participated in a creative project before, much less an intensive personal and public experience like this, were walking around in shock.

Then at 7:00 the performance began. The audience was divided into two groups, one of family members and Pat’s guests and the other of fellow prisoners. The women danced and in between read their painful personal stories (many written with former prisoner Shannon Pena) and their poetry. The women cried, they addressed their families, the guests cried, the fellow prisoners cheered.

And afterward the women said that their lives had been changed.

The weekend was one of the most emotional experiences of my life. I was a very proud contributor. I wrote a poem and shared it with the women over an ice cream cake at our cast party a few days later.

Thanks for the Rose

by Richard Gold 

To the women of Mission Creek Corrections Center 

Thanks for giving me a rose
after your Saturday performance.
I was happy to help you with your writing.

You know this,
but when the audience cried and applauded you,
it was not because of the painful subjects of your writing,
about being betrayed by incestuous fathers,
or about being brought low by drugs,
or about your shame at letting down your children.
When the audience cried and applauded you,
it was because you were honest
at a level that exposed the deepest part of yourselves,
the deepest hurt that includes the deepest love.

Thanks for giving me a rose.
You gave me much more.

I was so overwhelmed by your performance
that I asked Pat if I could follow her
on the drive home.

I was so affected
that after I followed Pat to the highway,
instead of continuing home,
I followed her
when she drove off to get gas.

Thanks for giving me a rose.

This is what I want to tell you
as my good-bye.

I was so overwhelmed by your performance
that I was careless with the rose.
I threw my jacket over it in the back of the car.

When I remembered it on Sunday night,
I thought the rose was ruined.
It was bent over and the leaves were distorted.
But I trimmed the stem and put the rose
in water.

When I woke up on Monday morning,
the rose was beautiful,
and the first thing I thought of
was you.