Thursday, January 3, 2013

Meeting Day

Meeting Day
December 21, 2012   

There are moments in our lives that will forever leave their footprints embedded in our memory. Visions of no particular significance to others than yourself; or to more than we recognize.

Suspended in time. Never changing but forever changing the being within us.

For me, the day was bitter cold. The wind beat the breath from my words. It was so forceful; one might think it was pushing me; holding me back from where I longed to be.

I can confidently say, many don't long to be inside a prison.

But this is the day I have worked for. A meeting. An opportunity to articulate through words the plight my heart has gone through to advocate for those incarcerated to have the opportunity to achieve an education.

I do not think my heart has beat any faster or harder than on that morning. I could feel my footsteps in my shoes but only feel my heart through the rest of my body.

I looked ahead and saw the American flag; symbolic freedom.

I looked ahead and saw concrete poised in bleak defiance; a guard towered within its stone wall, stood picturesque at his post

I looked ahead and saw the quintessential fence; an infinite iron guard bound by razor wire. A reminder that upon passage all dreams are deferred; a labyrinth where souls separate; the time served is merely a hurry up and wait.

Where displacement begins to feel like home.

The razor wire reflected the sun on that cold day. An ironic reminder, of what light can do to the most dismal circumstance.

Closer still. My mouth was dry. My eyes were wet; by the bitter wind that showed no mercy or the heavy anticipation, I have yet to decipher.

Inside, the facility was no warmer.

There were no smiles to greet you at the door or cheerful hellos.

The keepers and the kept displayed the same disposition; dutiful and irritated complacency.

The walls spoke an institutional beige

The floors an eerie, shiny clean; mirroring the fears and faults in the bowed faces of its trespassers.

My colleague and I stood waiting; anxious to meet, and collaborate our long awaited efforts with the Man in charge. The superintendent in charge of the facility met us after we passed through metal detectors, a pat down and inspection of our personal belongings. We shook hands and exchanged introductions. We were led down a corridor, again after showing identification two other times.

It was quieter than I expected. Only the soft humming of fluorescent lights and the wind howling against the windows.

There was small talk to fill the awkward walk and silence.

"So how was the drive...?"

"Greensboro huh...?"

Past office cubicles and doubtful looks of wonderment

we reached the meeting room.

Here was the moment I had been preparing for.

Reviewing notes, conversations, emails, letters

Reflecting to the stories of men and women and their families

Harboring sadness and fire to make smooth a dent the gavel of justice left in its wake

In my own way; to fight for reformation, transformation, reconciliation, education

The dialogue which occurred was draining. There were points, I felt that he only wanted to argue as to why it was impossible, regardless of the research, regardless of the ready professors wanting to drive an hour to teach, a willing academic and rigorous institution, funding and any and everything in between.

He sat stoic, back in his seat, arms crossed, looking dead at us for almost thirty minutes of what seemed like a losing negotiation.

Then something changed.

He relaxed, grabbed a pen and paper and started to take notes, asking us questions.

He seemed to come alive in the description of courses such as Restorative Justice and Community Problem Solving.

What was the particular phrase, or word? What reached in and touched him to open up and see our dedicated intent?

Maybe I will never quite know. Or maybe I already do. We did not shake under pressure; under scrutiny. We shook his hand, smiled and looked him in his eyes, and when we wanted to cower in the presence of intimidation (intentional or not) didn't.

I remembered who this was for. This was not a time for me to be afraid in my uncomfortableness. This was not about me, and it will never be just about me. It's about the people who need my help in anyway I can give.

After an hour more of speaking of the logistics of the initiative, we were given a tour of the possible classroom. On the way through the corridor, to the right there was a board with pictures of men wearing their caps and gowns, having attained their G.E.D's. The smiles in those pictures were the only ones I saw that day.

Education is transformative bringing light to the darkest places, empowering the person deemed voiceless with words strong, loud and brilliant.

I had the opportunity to speak with one of the incarcerated men sitting in the classroom. (Whom, configured the data system for the technological backup!)

At the end of our short conversation, he thanked us for our efforts and expressed extreme interest in enrolling if the site is approved. He left us with this:

"In prison, in life too, but especially in prison, you need two things: God and an education. One for the soul, the other for the mind. The two places they can never lock-up."

I left that day, more anxious than when I arrived, believing more in something I thought I could believe no stronger in.

The wind met us at the door again and

In the impoverished glow of cold times; like the sunbeams through the panes in December I felt the heavy reminder of brightness, luminous hope...

warmth, compassion and love.

And we keep moving forward.

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