Last week I saw a production of The Wiz produced by Rehabilitation Through the Arts (RTA). It was performed by inmates at a women’s maximum security prison for an audience of inmates.
The RTA director described the story as one of a girl being swept away – to a strange place – and having to find a way home. The journey to a “way home” brings out skills and strengths she did not know she had; she grows up on that journey and her values shift; and on the way she changes others’ lives as well. As I sat there, I could feel every woman in that audience of 200 hearing her own experience in that description.
Every woman in that prison dreams of a “way home.” Every woman there longs to make a home for her children, to care for her ailing mother, to be reunited with the partners, families, and friends whom she loves and who love her. Even those who have no family, because they were raised in foster homes or because their families have died or abandoned them, even those women dream of a home of their own, a base from which to lead a life of purpose, meaning, and love.
What amazes me most about these women is their resilience. One woman on that stage, singing full-throatedly of home, has a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Another is halfway through a sentence of forty years to life. Many others on that stage are serving twenty-five years to life. And much of the audience is serving similarly long sentences.
For today, I won’t talk about the politics of such long sentences. For today, I just want to recognize the courage it takes to get out of bed each morning facing such a future; the faith required to hold onto hope; and the Spirit that finds meaning – even in a life in prison.
When I think of home
I think of a place where there’s love overflowing
I wish I was home
I wish I was back there with the things I been knowing
Wind that makes the tall trees bend into leaning
Suddenly the snowflakes that fall have a meaning
Sprinklin’ the scene, makes it all clean
Maybe there’s a chance for me to go back there
Now that I have some direction
It would sure be nice to be back home
Where there’s love and affection
And just maybe I can convince time to slow up
Giving me enough time in my life to grow up
Time be my friend, let me start again
Dorothy Muller is a Chaplain at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility and a Parish Associate at Bedford Presbyterian Church.