Michelle McAfee

Missives of life on earth.

Folsom Prison – Day 1

WOW…… the only word I can think of this late in the night.  First day in Folsom was mind-blowing.  I was asked by an inmate “why’d ya come here? what for?”.  When I answered his eyes filled up and he didn’t breathe for a second.  I nearly lost it – and this is just Day 1.   Today I realized there is no time for b.s. – the Yard C guys are wide open and totally conscious.  I felt incredibly respected by them.   I’ll never forget what it felt like to drive up this wood rail fence lined road with green grass on either side like I was going to the country club or something until the road led down a hill and I saw it.  I was punched in the guts by it.  Folsom Prison.  Concrete fortress with little square black windows and spit-shined silver razor wire fence.  Tall blue guard towers looked like air traffic control but this was no airport.  This was the destination.

We met Jim at the entry gate where a less-than-amused guard wrote out our ID cards and asked us to sign releases.  “Do you understand that there is no exchange for hostages in this prison?”.  No, I don’t understand, please elaborate.   “If a prisoner captures you and holds you hostage we won’t free the prisoner in exchange for you”.  Oh.  I get it. No collateral. I’m worth nothing.   My shaking hand signed on the dotted line.  Jim told us we were dressed perfectly, mostly in black.  We had been told what colors to wear and what colors were unacceptable.  My best guess was they wanted us to steer clear of gang colors.   Once inside it was made clear.  Melissa had been in many times before and Shawn one time before.  The rest of us were first timers.  When we arrived at The Gate  the guards searched our guitar cases and instruments and walked us through a metal detector.  They seemed slightly amused and confused as to why we would want to spend a perfectly good day in prison.  When the gate slammed and locked behind us the first time, my heart jumped and the reality hit home.  This is the real deal.

We were led into Yard C, through secure doors, ID’s checked then down a hallway that led into the yard where there were signs stating “No Warning Shots”.  When something happens, some……lets say…. disturbance, an alarm goes off and the Yard “goes down” you do not want to be the only one standing wearing blue jeans which from the far away guard tower can look a lot like prison blue.  “No Warning Shots”.   Inside the entryway to Yard C they walked us into a room that had a cage around the front entrance.  This was the AIC room (Arts In Corrections).  We walked into this concrete room full of men in blue.  Every inch had a chair, every chair held a man.  We walked past them as they scooted and leaned to make an isle for us to reach the front of the room where 7 empty chairs faced the crowd.  I don’t remember how many inmates where there – I wasn’t counting.  I was trying to breath.  We immediately pulled out our guitars and instruments and sat down next to each other.  Melissa knew many of the inmates from her previous visits with the Arts Program.  She first did the program in 2005 joining Michael Frante in concert at Folsom.  She’s been on fire and a strong advocate of the Arts Program ever since.

She started with a big “Hello” to the inmates, introduced us then played a song.  We each took turns playing songs with Rik & Cooper accompanying on the Resonator guitar and Acordion.  I don’t know what possesed me, but the first song I chose was The Bird Song.  I told the story nervously of how and why I wrote the song for a bird then I played that sweet little folk song.  It was well received much to my surprise!  It had been so long since I had played songs for a captive, willing, eager audience that I almost forgot what it felt like to see people take in and connect with a  song.  Those men heard every single word.

The day flew by – seemed like as soon as we got comfortable in the room, we had to leave.   Some of the men were really present, like Marty and Rick, but others seemed more aloof and reserved like Arthur, Kiki and Ken “The Bluesman”.

We returned to the lovely log house Chris donated to our group in Nevada City.  Dan sleeps out in the guest house, Cooper out in his Van where he has a sweet set-up with a futon and his old dog Raz.  Spiff and Rik have the upstairs room on the left and Melissa, me, Shawn and Thyme (Melissa’s 12 year old daughter) have the room on the right.  Rik and Spiff are playing guitar and singing in the living room.  I am trying to blog in the kitchen and Melissa is blogging on her laptop sitting on the piano bench.  The day was amazing, but there are 5 more to go.

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Folsom Prison – Day 2

Jim walked us through the gates.  The guards were rather cheery, getting us quickly past the metal detector,  guitar search drill.  I like those guys – they were pretty cool.  I sensed they thought we were nuts.  The only thing we were told about today was that it would have a Native American focus.  There are several Native American men and several more who are on “The Red Road” involved with the AIC Program.  Jim said they wanted to drum, play flutes and share with us.  He also told Shawn it would be a good day to introduce her Breath Work.  Shawn carried in her Didgeridoo, I carried in my Rattle and guitar.  Spiff, Dan & Melissa play guitars, Rik  plays a super cool shiny Resonator guitar and Cooper plays Accordion and Harmonica. (Our Rik spells his name differently than the inmate Rick in the AIC Program).

We arrived in the Yard C Arts Room to discover the chairs were placed in a big circle around the room instead of in rows facing us.  Shawn stood up and started the session talking about her Breathing Practice, how she uses it to calm her mind and meditate.  She then sat cross-legged on the concrete floor in the middle of the circle and showed the men how to meditate and do deep breath work.  I noticed Arthur had scooted his chair back towards the corner of the room and had turned his body away from the center of the circle.   Occasionally I glanced his way and once or twice saw him snickering at the meditation and fidgeting.  I thought “uh oh, we’re gonna lose him”.  The men at any time can leave the room.  They don’t have to sit through the Program.  Arthur stayed.  When Shawn finished the meditation she picked up the didgeridoo and asked Manny, who also plays Didg, to sit in a chair in the middle of the circle.  This was tough for him to do.  Sitting in the center of other inmates having all of our attention on him was not easy.  Manny seems quiet.  He found the courage to stand up and move to the middle chair.  Shawn then asked Rick  to take the hand drum behind Manny and start the heart beat rhythm.  She then began doing sound healing in front of and around Manny.   The energy in the room shifted and I believe we could all feel the difference.  When she finished, Manny sat silently for a moment, eyes closed then took a deep breath before opening them. “I’m a little embarrassed to say this, but I have to share it.  When I first felt the sound I asked ‘why me? why me?  Then I heard the answer. ‘Because God loves me'”.  No one snickered.  No one laughed.  No one made a move.  A few heartbeats later someone said “I want some of that”!  We then lined up 8 chairs inside the circle and Shawn asked Melissa and I to join her with the rattle and hand drum.  Shawn stood in front of them and moved the Didg to where she felt it needed to go. Melissa and I stood behind rattling and drumming, breaking up energy and holding it at the same time.  It was ceremony. It was powerful. It opened the energy in the room and opened each one of us there.    It reminded me of times in a sweat lodge when that kind of gentle,  larger-than-us spirit enters the space.  Melissa and I both sensed Grandmother energy in that room and I felt humbled, like we were being guided. I never would have imagined doing that kind of healing work in prison – on the second day.   It wasn’t just those 8 men and us women who felt it. Everyone in that room was touched by it.

Shawn’s lips were about to fall off her face from playing the Didg so long so I took the rattle to the middle of the circle and sang a very energetic traditional Oneida Unity song that got everyone on their feet and singing the answer lines.  After that song, we turned it over to the guys.  Rick played his flute for us.  Dark Cloud, who is Mescalero Apache, sang an honor song and drummed.  After his song, much to my surprise, Arthur came forward from the back corner and joined the circle.  Arthur is Navajo.  He too sang an honor song and drummed and I’ll never forget the look on his face after he made that offering to us.  Stands Alone then sang a beautiful song in his language and the flutes were played again.

The transformation that happened this day is incredible.  The men who held back and kept their hearts to the wall yesterday, fully came forward into the circle and opened their hearts and minds.  I truly feel this was a pivotal day that altered every single person in the room.  I swear that room was shining bright when we left, even though the sun was nowhere to be found.

Folsom Prison – Day 3

I have to back up and add an important detail that is the focus of our time here.  It’s easy to get caught up in telling stories and skip over the obvious!   Everyday  Melissa, Shawn, Spiff, Rik, Cooper, Dan and I play our original songs with an occasional cover song thrown in for good measure. Sharing our music with the inmates broke the ice on Day 1 and from that day forward, the men in AIC have also shared their art, poetry and music with us as well.

Day 3 was equally magical but with a different focus. There was a gray bearded man in the back of the room who  sat and faced the computer, his back to us the entire first day we were here. Day 2 he turned around and watched the sound healing experience, facing us all in the circle. Today he came forward to the front row in the circle and wanted to play a song he wrote for us. At first he was holding one of the program guitars – works but not the Cadillac of instruments. I offered my Taylor to him and he said  “I’ve been looking at those guitars for years in the catalog and always wanted to play one.” I handed it to him.  Ken put his hand up and said “no, it’s too good for me”. Melissa and I in unison said “no it isn’t, play it”.  A smile lit up his face. He put the other guitar down and graced my instrument with his song “I’m a Blues Man”. He blew us all away. Hands shaking,  playing this authentic blues groove with his smokey, hard-lived voice singing a story that was so poignant,  so well written I nearly fell off my chair. Marty then shared several songs he had written – very powerful,  at times difficult and always beautiful to hear such crystal honesty. The men were all engaged and wide open wanting to share their writing, songs and poetry with us. Stink recited poetry that left us all speechless.  Rik has been quoting Stinks poem all day.  Spoon began a poem but his tears finished it when he had to leave the room. It was so beyond description to see the internal walls crumble down in every single person. To see inmates crying in front of each other and us was powerful. They can’t show that emotion in the Yard – it’s dangerous. Everyday after our sessions with them, they would have to shut it down and conceal it. But when we were all together, the tears, the love, the laughter, the emotion flowed freely.

I will also share at this point that I wasn’t sure what to expect going in, being a woman and never even having been to the principles office let alone a prison. Three of the seven of us were women and we all agreed that we have never felt more respected in our entire lives.

Jim gave us 2 hours in Yard C then he took the group over to Yard A where the AIC Program has not been introduced – yet. We experienced the difference between men who have been in a recovery program using Art, Music and Poetry and men who have not been in that program. We played songs and connected with the men in Yard A as well, although it was a different kind of connection.  It was exactly what was possible in that moment.  There were a few inmates who repeatedly asked for cover songs.  Bette Midler to be exact.  Melissa and I somehow fell into singing “The Rose” a cappella and managed to remember all the words (unbelievable I know!).    Only 10 or so men showed up in the Yard A room today.   When the announcement was made that musicians were coming in to play for them, an inmate said  “they’re lying to you, don’t you know music ain’t allowed in here”.  That rumor spread so fast most of the inmates who had clearance to come, didn’t show up.  It was good to see the music connect us with these men, even though some of them had no idea what this program was about or why we were there.  By the end of our time in Yard A, the guys were all tapping their hands or feet fully participating in the experience and fully interested in hearing our original songs,  asking questions about the songwriting and the process.

The Connection with the guys in Yard C is different because of the power of  Poetry and Music  to break down barriers allowing us to communicate openly and respectfully. We don’t know each others stories and no one asks. Our time here isn’t about the past, it’s about today and every moment forward. The past came out in the poetry and that was enough. My heart has opened to a new level of compassion and understanding that I have never felt before. My eyes are also wide open to the truth of a system that we “the collective” have created. The system is set up to fail. Fail us and fail the inmates. I saw so clearly the absolute worth and importance of the Arts Program and the necessity to do a complete paradigm shift in how we as a society deal with prison.  How we as a society value Art.  Art is being pulled from schools, prisons and communities.  We are seeing first hand this week, the detrimental effects that choice ultimately has on our society.

Art and Music are necessary tools for teaching and learning self-discipline, self-purpose, creative problem solving and creative ways of coping with emotions and experiences of life.  Art and Music are a conduit for personal development.   This effects us on the outside.   For example, there are 170,000 inmates in the California State Prison system.  At some point, over 90% of those inmates will come out.  Back to the streets, the neighborhoods, the cities, the towns.  Currently there is a 70% recidivism rate.  70% will re-commit and head back to prison.  The AIC Program had been in place in Folsom since the 70’s.  In 1987 they tracked for 6 months,  a small group of AIC Program inmates who got out on parole.  They found the parole success rate was 50% better with the AIC guys than the men paroled who were not in the Art In Corrections Program.   It works.

Folsom Prison – Day 4

Hmmm. This day is hard for me to write about. I still tear up when I talk about the day. Jim saw the effect our group was having with the Yard C guys and he suggested taking a few of us over to the AD-SEG Unit. Immediately I felt a resounding “Yes” as did Melissa. Rik, Spiff, Dan and Cooper also really wanted to go. Shawn didn’t. She had a lot of fear around it.

We spent the first hour of Day 4 in the Arts room of Yard C.   When it was time, Jim signaled Melissa and she said “Michelle & Shawn, you’re coming with me”.  The three of us had been holding a strong balanced feminine energy that, as you can imagine, is in very short supply in this prison. It was clear that we needed to take that energy, and our 3-part harmonies, to AD-SEG. On the walk across the other yard Jim briefed us: “You are heading into the belly of the beast”.  AD-SEG is the prison within the prison where men are held in cages and shackled down if they are moved anywhere. To my knowledge, no one from the outside goes in there. It was a really cool that Jim got clearance to take us in. The energy was incredibly intense as the big door opened and we entered the unit.   I felt shaky but very clear that this was exactly where we needed to be.  Adam, the recreational therapist,  greeted us inside the door and said “we need you all to come over here and put on stab jackets”. We each chose our colors – beige or green?  We turned from the guard station and entered a small room that felt like a doctors office with fluorescent lights and boring tile. There were 12 cages lining the back and side walls of the room – slightly larger than phone booths. 10 of the cages were filled.  Men sitting back, some of them despondent, some of them seeming curious. It was challenging to play guitar over a stab jacket and we all felt a little nervous. Shawn was scared and she broke the ice right away by looking at them all and saying “I’m a little freaked out here, but I’m here”. We started in right away playing original songs that have a strong message. I shared a traditional Oneida Unity song with them and Shawn played the didgeridoo. Melissa started to play one of her songs but then she made a connection with a few of the inmates and stopped the song. She began talking through the meaning of her song “Listen”, sharing thoughts and feelings that I never imagined we would share in that moment with those guys. The cages truly disappeared and we all related to each other as human beings. One of the prisoners in the left corner raised his hand and said “can I say something?”. He was looking at me. We said “sure” and were a little blown away that he had raised his hand. “I find you attractive”. That was all he said. I said “Thank You” and that was it. It never came up again and the energy in the room remained clear. 2 inmates responded so strongly to Melissa and the conversation she started that each of them took turns sharing their poetry, beating a fist on their heart to keep a rhythm – it’s the only instrument those guys have. When we were done every single man in the cages – even the seemingly despondent ones – were connecting with eyes and were standing up and leaning forward towards us in the cage. One of them said “hey, what’s your name?? What’s your groups name?”. We chuckled and told them some of the stupid names we had been coming up with all week – The U-turns, Soul Spankers….. you get it. He said very strongly “no man, you’re One Soul”. And we were. And we are. That day in that room was deeply powerful.   I know there is no way to convey in words here what what we all felt in that room. I can only say that I felt spirit pure and strong and I saw light and respect shine in a way I never have before in the darkest place I have ever been.

We left AD-SEG.  In the hallway outside the big door we lost it for a moment.  A rush of emotion washed over the three “weepers” as Melissa calls us,  and  Jim propped us up.  The energy that moved through us all in AD-SEG is beyond description so the feeling came out in momentary tears – good tears.  We were able to pull it together and return to Yard C Art Room.

Back in C, Spiff, Rik, Dan and Cooper were holding it down, sharing music and poetry with the guys in there. On the walk back across the yard I knew I had been changed forever and felt a deep gratitude. I knew my life would in some way be altered by this one day. By this entire experience.

When we left the prison gates and walked to the truck, I gave Spiff the keys and asked him to drive. I broke down from the beauty of it all.  From witnessing the power Music and Art have to break down walls – even thick walls and cages. Melissa and Shawn broke down with me in the back seat – it felt good to laugh and cry at the same time. Rik and Spiff were so strong for us on that ride back to the house. They allowed a comfortable silence for a while then they both started in with their high-school humor.

The first day driving over an hour to the prison and back with these two, annoyed me – honestly. The first day I had a hard time imagining myself tolerating their characters,  skits and accents the entire week. By the second day and especially on this day’s ride home, I have never felt more grateful for that humor and the light those men carry. They were medicine. Coyote medicine and I feel like they caught us that day. They were our anchors. The three women are all Pisces – oh god.  And somewhere, somehow, someone named us the Trinity. I think it was Heru in one of his poems.  The three voices. The three women. The three weepers. Without the “anchors”  the magic wouldn’t have happened, of this I am sure.

Folsom Prison – Day 5

We had one day off during this intense week. Yesterday.   Saturday was Day Off.  Saturday morning found everyone in the group sick with upper respiratory stuff. I believe it was less about germs and more about processing such potent emotional energy – for us and the inmates. We had a gig last night at a venue that is an old Schoolhouse outside of Nevada City. We played a very short set.  I don’t think any of us were in the mind-set to be in that social environment. Unlike the show we did a few nights ago at The Crazy Horse Saloon in Nevada City. Man, that gig was magic and musically a blast!!  We all ended up on stage together, bringing the harmonies we had discovered in the prison to the saloon. People ate it up.
Day 5. The goal was to shift us back to performing for the inmates vs. the circle that we had been working in all week. When we arrived that morning, we were taken to Yard C Library rather than the Arts room. The library was lined with shelves full of books but tacked onto the shelves were big red signs with white letters “Out of Bounds”.   I didn’t get it. Why have a library full of books then mark them out of bounds?? I never had time to ask about that.   The inmates had the PA, speakers and microphones set up for us and the chairs were again in rows facing “the stage”.  All of the One Soul group was exhausted and the previous day off may have actually lost momentum for us rather than gaining energy. We played songs and performed for them, but it felt off. None of us felt like we were clicking.  The inmates were cool and seemed to like it, but the room didn’t have the energy of connection we had experienced in the Arts room. We took a short break half way into the program and Melissa figured it out. She asked Jim if we could continue unplugged and circle the chairs. Jim is such a sweetie and really great at keeping things focused. I remember his words “Melissa is the boss, circle the chairs”. Once we did that, it felt better and had more flow. I realized that we were having a hard time functioning in lines and rows after working in circle. We shared songs and they shared a few with us then the day seemed to fly by.
The seven of us staying in that sweet little log house surrounded by tall Ponderosa Trees has been another huge heart opener. The place reminds me a lot of home.  The nights we don’t have gigs, we stay at the house, eat together around a big round wood table and play music into the night or more often than not, talk and process with each other the days events. The bonding is incredible and it feels like a week long intense slumber party. Every night no one wants to go to sleep, afraid we’ll miss something or that it will feel different when we wake up, like from a dream. Somehow, each day we wake up still feeling the magic. The week hasn’t been entirely intense all the time. I have laughed  so hard my guts hurt. Funny things happen when you throw 7 people into a house together for a week. It wasn’t just the house. Wherever we went, hilarity followed. For instance, 4 or 5 of us were standing in line at the gas station buying water bottles and what-nots and Spiff casually said “wouldn’t it be funny if a random group of people came into a gas station and spontaneously started singing?”. We took our cue perfectly and all of us fell into singing Silent Night in 4 part harmony. The lady at the cash register raised her eyebrows but eventually sang with us, as did the woman in line in front of us. We sang wherever we went and I can’t even talk about the inside jokes this group carries! Tonight we were invited to a pot-luck gathering. Melissa, Spiff, Rik and I went even though we were all sick and beyond exhausted. I heard there was going to be a fire and I wanted to sit next to it. There was no bonfire outside, but there were very warm people inside, very good organic fresh food and a cozy living room where we started playing music….. of course.  Spiff began one of his songs but didn’t get too far. He started laughing uncontrollably and couldn’t stop. Soon Melissa and Rik and I were laughing uncontrollably,  trying to sing.  People at first looked at us like we had completely lost it. Maybe we had. It was contagious and others in the room started laughing at us laughing. I think it was a form of release. It should have stopped in about 5 minutes, but it didn’t. Eventually we had to put the guitars down because we couldn’t get through a song without bursting into fall-off-your-chair laughter.

Folsom Prison – Day 6

We had all been dreading this day. It was hard to believe that we wouldn’t be able to get back in and work with these guys again. The AIC Program is ending in Yard C – that’s why we are here. It frustrates me to know that something so effective is being cut due to money crunch.

We all woke up somewhat rested and focused on making it the best day possible. Jim had debriefed us the day before and said again, that it was important for us to shift the focus to a performance and start to break away from the circle. We had to start closing the energy down. We were taken into Yard C library where again, the stage was set up and the chairs were in a row. They were bringing in other inmates who hadn’t been involved in the Arts Program, so this really was more of a performance, more of a show. Guards would occasionally pop in the door and watch and listen and Jim brought his wife and adult kids in that day to see the performance. One Soul had to focus on the music. It was incredibly emotional. Ken “The Blues Man” came up on stage and played the keyboard.  Tree sang Ken’s Original song “I’m A Blues Man”. Tree has joyful eyes and a deep, soulful voice like he came straight from a gospel choir. When he sang, he tilted his head down slightly and closed his eyes,  the sound coming from somewhere deep inside. One day this week he sang Melissa her own song – he had learned it and sang it back to her. Big C also sang. He’s a very big man with a very big soul voice.  He came up to the stage and stood between Melissa, Shawn  and I singing 4-part harmony back ground vocals with us.  It was an awesome band – the inmates and us performing for the others. I’m skipping over a lot of what happened this day – it seems surreal to me but I picture it so vividly.  I’ll snapshot what I can………   We took a short lunch break and Spoon was in the back of the room, where he always sits. He was a tough one at first. He seemed to not be as engaged as the others, but soon I realized that was not true. Spoon sees and hears everything. He is an incredible poet. During lunch break I sat next to him at the back table and Rik joined us. Spiff and Marty were playing James Taylor songs in the front of the room. I heard the Chorus from where I sat and sang the harmony to Spoon “……..seen lonely times when I could not find a friend, but I always thought that I’d see you one more time again”. Spoon lit up and he began reciting his poetry to Rik and I.  Right there in the back of the room this man blew his heart open to us and gave us words that were so real and beautiful I couldn’t contain the tears. Spoon recited a poem that Rik then asked him to write on the back of his resonator guitar. We all signed guitars and flutes and they signed my rattle bag. I noticed that the signatures were to “Sis”. The guys put Melissa, Shawn and myself in the “Sister” place. That’s how they felt about us. It was the greatest honor….. almost.

After lunch we went back to the stage and a new round of inmates came in, but the core of the AIC Program guys stayed. We sang more songs, tears flowing between the words and melodies, at times making it challenging to sing but we ended strong with the song that sort of became the theme – “Change”. There was an inmate who had been in the circle a couple of days that week – Richard. He’s in a wheelchair. Wasn’t when he got there, but he is now. He has a sweet soul with soft eyes and is very quiet. During the last chorus of “Change” Melissa took the song to a high fervor and told everyone to get up! The entire room was on it’s feet singing “everybody’s gotta make a change sometime” over and over and Richard signaled to his cellie and another friend to come over. He leaned his arms on their shoulders and they stood Richard up out of his wheelchair and he sang the Chorus with us on his feet. I lost it. I cannot describe the power of that moment and the feeling in that room. It was beyond what words can convey. There was not one dry eye in the library this day.  The song ended and we thought it was all over but the guys started moving chairs out of the way and making a clearing in the middle of the room.

Kiki is Samoan. He has taught a few inmates in the Inside Circle a traditional Samoan dance. Dark Cloud and three other men joined Kiki in presenting this dance to One Soul. They asked us to stand in the front of the room then they danced their hearts out – in front of us and the other inmates. These men were in blue prison clothes. They are big men who melted into the song,  became fluid  and soft with their hand and body movements and were totally in perfect time with each other, synchronized. It was powerful. The room disappeared and we saw only warriors doing an honor dance the old way. It was the highest form of honor they could give us. Can you imagine, these guys in this prison dancing like that for us all?? It was so amazing that we stood there stunned, tears running full flow down our faces. In that moment there truly was no prison, no walls, no razor wire, no signs stating “no warning shots”, no “out of bounds”, no blue clothes with yellow “prisoner” letters, no black, no white, no red, no yellow skin. In that moment that room was full of the brightest light I have ever witnessed. That room was full of human beings honoring each other in the highest way. That room was full of love in it’s purest form. That was the finale. That IS the finale.

I have fully been changed by this experience. Changed in a beautiful way. My heart is open, my eyes are wide, my mind is full of new understanding. I feel a purpose in life I have never felt before. One Soul is just getting started and we will find a way to do this work in other places and hopefully take it back into Yard C somehow, someday. The AIC Program effects everyone – some of those inmates will be getting out. Who do you want roaming the streets of your world? The men in The AIC Program or the multitude of men who are not given this Program?  It is time to fix a system that is fatally failing all of humanity. There is another way. We saw it with our own eyes and felt it with our own hearts. There is no going back after that.

I feel some frustration for as I write I am being flooded with images and details that I didn’t write down here. Like Heru’s “I Honor You” poem that he wrote 2 days after we had been working with them that week then recited it to us.  Spoons poetry, Stinks Poetry, Marty’s songs, Ken’s songs. Shawn melting beeswax in a coffeepot and a plastic bag to fix a didgeridoo for Manny.  Dan playing the “Rodeo Song” for the Yard A guys. Cooper letting the harmonica rip so hard that Marty just shook his head back and forth with a “damn man” under his breath. Signing autographs for every single inmate in the AD-SEG room. Performing for Warden Walker in his office. All the U-Turns. The heavy fog over the prison valley the day the yard was “down” – like an omen. Spoon going to great lengths to make sure we had cups and hot water for tea (I asked for one cup and 15 minutes later 100 paper cups arrived and the hot water pot was never empty). The feeling I felt when I walked back into the Arts Room right after the AD-SEG experience and saw Rik, Spiff, Cooper and Dan sitting there surrounded by the Yard C guys in a circle – the deepest gratitude for friends. Going to Jim’s house and hanging out with his lovely family. Our last night in the log house with 5 of us piled on the couch together on the front porch reliving, remembering and laughing to the rhythm of the rain on the tin roof. The details will keep coming I’m sure, but for now this is all I have to share with you. Some things are too sacred, defy words and are only meant for the heart.

Thank you for reading these long blogs, this is not a story I want to condense. On behalf of One Soul, we send a huge “Thank You” to Jim Carlson, Cheri Snook, Adam, Warden Walker, Chris, Jeff, KVMR, the shuttle van driver for all the jokes….. the many other people who made this all possible.  Thanks to those who have given support, our friends and family and to Mom and Dad who caught me when I fell home.
Nukiwa (until we meet again),
Michelle