It is hard for me to say whether the time we have spent with the ladies at Hope Rises has felt short or long. It feels short because the weeks go by so fast between research and rehearsal where we write, listen, plan, and more. It feels long because the stories I’ve heard in those weeks have been so changing. These stories have made me laugh, fall back in my seat in shock, and hold back tears. The women dazzle me with their resilience and emotional intelligence every time I am in their presence.
Our first meeting with them, we were in the cozy living room at Hope Rises. There, we took our very first recording of their conversations. As they spoke, often times over the top of each other, I was struck by what I later described in my journal as a, “a loud, painful symphony of shared experience.” So many of these women, despite their vast age difference, contrast in background, and varying crimes have experienced so many of the same things while in prison. In them, one can see a physical representation of how the incarceration system separates these women from the basics that contribute to their humanity.
I could certainly explain how what I have heard from these women about their experience makes me feels some kind of ideal Brechtian desire to fix the system in any way I can. I sometimes struggle with the knowledge that the women that sit in front of me are literally walking evidence of how many people slip through the cracks of the social institutions that seem completely normal to many of us. But, it is the storytelling that reminds me not to allow myself to get too puffed up or angry in their stead. These women don’t need me to do that. I’m there to give them the tools to share their story; What they need me to do is listen, consider, and learn. Really, we all need to learn from them.
As the date of our performance approaches, I am finding myself wishing that I could spend forever learning from them. Clearly though, thats impossible. These ladies need to graduate and re-enter the world and I certainly have plenty of work to do. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy the process while I can.