On September 25, 2009 I spent the afternoon in prison.
That Friday afternoon, I made the hour drive out to Lockhart State Prison in Texas, with a dozen other women and a couple of men. We were there on behalf of a program called Truth Be Told, which runs 8-week programs in the prison to empower women, through a curriculum designed to help them tell their stories - often for the first time in their lives. This was the "graduation" ceremony for the women who had just completed the Truth Be Told program. Most of these women have never really faced their pasts and traumas, much less talked about them.
We had come as respectful listeners - these women were going to stand up in front of the room full of other prisoners, and us - and tell their stories, out loud, for the first time. It's an incredibly brave and vulnerable act for anyone. And for most of these women, it was the first time they'd ever had anyone listen to them respectfully.
I could hardly comprehend that - the idea that no one had ever really listened to these women with respect before pierced me. I was listened to respectfully as a child, when I went running up to my mother on little toddler legs with some crazy childish idea. I was listened to respectfully in school by my teachers. I have had many bosses who listened to and respected me; many wonderful friends who listened. I can sit down at the end of the day and share something minor that happened with my boyfriend - and he listens to me. Respectfully.
The concept that these women were sharing such painful, personal things - for the first time, and with complete strangers - made me sad for them.