Becca Stevens shares her thoughts:
It was a grey and stormy morning crossing the bridge to Rikers Island to visit the women’s prison. This was the fourth stop on our “Find Your Way Home Prison Tour,” and it was by far the most daunting. For weeks I had been feeling rocky anyway. Over the past few years Thistle Farms has been floating in and out of churches talking about body care products and sharing stories of hope. Since we have started discussing systematic changes within the prison system, the dialogue feels different. There is a different tone and timbre to the conversations, and the sweetness of the work we do in our community seems to pale in the wake of the huge waves of the systems we face. The tour of our nation’s prisons has taught us all what it means to relinquish control, to perceive the hope that differentiates people all dressed alike, and to keep searching for new meaning in age old problems.
I love how we walk into prisons armed with our book about living in community, with musicians who can tell a story through song, with graduates of Magdalene who have seen the inside of prison walls, and with a message that no one is so far away that she can’t find her way home. It is a challenge because I know that If we present good arguments, share beautiful stories, work really hard, and pray faithfully, it still may not make a change that anyone can easily see. No matter how imperceptible, still we are walking the right path. It is overwhelming to try to change the conscience of people and to talk about mercy and forgiveness in a system where justice is thrown around as though it were infallible or unchanging. I think many people believe because they are not experts, they are reluctant to voice their own opinion. Proposed new laws that will cost states millions of dollars to incarcerate women who were victims, long before they were criminals, are detrimental to the entire penal system. Those projected prisons should confine people who have violent histories.
The vast majority of women we serve in Magdalene are preordained to prostitute themselves and use drugs at an early age. Young girls are victimized and ensnared in communities that tolerate the buying and selling of humans, communities that allow drugs and prostitution to flourish. When I think about the thousands of women who, like me, have been violently abused at an early age, I know intuitively that many of these women would benefit more from mercy than the “justice” of confinement and by being reminded they are beloved children of God. We are hearing the same life story from women in every prison; 85 percent are held on drug or related charges. Many are spending years just passing through. No matter how rough the waters, I remain grateful we have this gift of sharing the good news of hope and the story of our small community on this tour.
We are deeply grateful to Rev. Stephen Bauman, Rev. Cathy Gilliard and Christ Church UMC Park Avenue for hosting us for the weekend as well as the Simone family - Carleen, Winston, Isabelle & Winston Jr. - for a fabulous home party and amazing hospitality. What a remarkable weekend. Following are a few more photos from our visit:
Our host church, Christ Church UMC Park Avenue.
Becca and Bev, Katrina & Tara leading the Adult Forum.
A Thistle Farms party at the Simone's lovely home.
....and wonderful new friends!
With gratitude from Becca, Bev, Katrina, Tara, Ali, Marlei, Dorinda, John and everyone from Magdalene/Thistle Farms!
photos by J. Kutsko except 2nd image from top by C. Snell