Pongo Project Journal

Sharing stories of our work with teens
Dec 06
Warm Smiles in Winter

When I planned my last writing workshop at Mission Creek Corrections Center, it was just before Thanksgiving, and I was feeling particularly badly for the women. With budget cutbacks the facility is losing its only two recreation staff. Meanwhile the population has doubled to around 300 women. Holidays are always a difficult time.

As many of you understand, the lives of incarcerated women have included great suffering, including childhood sexual abuse and domestic battering, including drug addiction, including regrets about having let down their children.

But I planned a writing workshop on love, especially on the complicated nature of love. The poems I brought to discuss included Bessie Smith lyrics, “Dirty No Gooder Blues.” We did the Pongo writing activity “Love, Sometimes” (created by Pongo leader Ann Teplick).

In particular, I brought a poem by Hafiz called “With That Moon Language.” In this poem Hafiz says that we’re all walking around making a silent appeal to “Love me,” afraid to say the words aloud because people might think we’re weird. But ultimately we’re left with a choice. We can walk out today and join the throng… Or we can walk out and say the words that everyone is so desperately longing to hear.

The poets and I had a good discussion and a good time in our workshop. As usual the women asked me to distribute my backup writing activities as homework. Those of you who have followed Pongo know that I have a high regard for the emotional depth of people who have led difficult lives. At the end of the session, I said to everyone, “Spread the love!”

I packed up my materials and was escorted out of the prison. Just before leaving I walked through a common area where five women were huddled around a table. One woman was sprawled across the table top to hear better. The staff person made a comment to the sprawler, and the women looked up.

It turned out the woman at the center of the group had been in my workshop. She saw me, flashed a huge smile, and said, “I’m reading them my poetry!” Then everyone smiled.

Spread the love!