Thursday, July 19, 2007

A new start

This morning I got up early, jumped in the shower, threw on some clothes and drove to prison.

For the last year and a half, I've been following two women at Black Mountain Correctional Center for Women. I sat with them through a re-entry program and their subsequent class graduation, interviewed them in the cafeteria and library for hours upon hours, talked with them about everything from how they got in prison to their work-release jobs to what they'll do when they walk out of the administration building for the last time. Notebooks are piled in my office, filled with my scribbling about our conversations, their stories, thoughts, feelings.

And today! Debbie! Was! Released! After five years of living in a N.C. Department of Corrections facility, a sargeant's voice rumbled over the PA system, calling out her name, telling her to go to the administration building. It was for the last time. Cheers and clapping erupted in the yard, where women in green-blue shirts and shirt dresses sat smoking or listening to music at concrete picnic tables. She went inside and 20 minutes later, she came out arms filled with white plastic bags holding all her stuff. She and her probation officer loaded them in the trunk of the officer's car, and she climbed in the backseat. I stood in the parking lot, watching. As she rode away, her face was turned to the red brick dormatory where she'd lived the last two years. The sun shone on her face. And suddenly this feeling hopefulness flooded over me.

If you know me or my writing very well, you'll know that I don't believe in the "objective journalist." Do I believe in being fair? Oh, absolutely. For the last 1.5 years I've been practicing fairness. But today I felt so proud of her, so hopeful for her future, so happy that she won't have to ask anyone whether she can go to the bathroom or sit on a bench ever again. (She is the first to tell you that she needed to be in prison, that there wasn't a choice almost. But that was five years ago, and a lot has changed, I'm hoping. Now, I'm so happy that she's back!)

And it must be catching, these New Starts, because a woman I worked with at the newspaper is leaving the paper today to go teach English in South Korea with her husband. Wow.

I'm ready for a change, too. And, really, there was nothing left to do except jump up and down outside my house, happy that I feel one coming.


Anonymous said...



Frances said...

i love this picture of your sneakers and your rolled up jeans. hotdog! change is good. are y'all back from your venture north?