We found this simultaneously distressing and hopeful.
Distressing, in terms of the punitive ‘criminal justice’ systems both here and in the U.S., which further disempower, traumatize and dehumanize people who already have a damaging bed rock of those life experiences – a societal scapegoating and abandonment of some of the most vulnerable.
Hopeful in the loving flames of the New York librarian, the new library, Rayya and Liz, and Jamie’s powerful poem – the human spirit and our creativity, like Carl Roger’s potatoes, appearing and growing in the most barren, cruel and arid of environments. Gratitude to all concerned.
Here’s the text for those who have difficulty in seeing Facebook links:-
“Dear Ones –
Yesterday, I spent the morning at Riker’s Island prison with Rayya Elias, at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a library which has just opened there.
The prison — which is a women’s facility — has never had a library before. For several years now, a tireless librarian from the New York Public Library has shown up at Riker’s Island with a pushcart of books, going from cell to cell, to bring the women reading material. But finally there is small, sunny room full of books, where the women can go to read, to study, and to be at peace.
I was so honored to there, to see the library open.
I’ve been in some of the most beautiful libraries of the world, but I’ve never seen a library so important as the one housed in this small cinderblock room, with a police guard at the door.
For Rayya, this trip was a homecoming of sorts. As those of you who have read her memoir HARLEY LOCO know, she was once an inmate at Riker’s Island herself. (Actually, she went there twice; sometimes it takes a long time to get yourself together in life.) Rayya was once a drug addict, a dealer, a thief, a felon, and a homeless woman, thrown away by society. Now she returned to the prison as a success story — drug-free for 19 years, an author, a filmmaker, a real estate agent, a hairdresser, a friend, a sister, a neighbor, and a pillar of strength to her friends and family.
Rayya spoke so movingly to the ten inmates who attended this ceremony about how she had turned her life around. She reminded them that Riker’s Island is place of transition – not the defining, final home of their lives. As Rayya told them, it took her years of being beaten down and broken apart before she finally broke open — before she finally realized that the only safe home she would ever have in this world was inside her own mind, and until that mind became a place of peace and refuge, her life would always be chaos…whether she lived behind bars, or free on the outside.
Rayya pointed to her head, and said, “This is where you live.” Then she pointed to her heart, and said, “And this is who you are. Once you get those two things in order, the rest of it doesn’t matter.”
But the most moving moment of the day, for me, was when an inmate named Jamie Ferreira stood up and read a poem that she had written — the first line of which put me straight into tears.
I asked Jamie if I could share her poem on my Facebook page today, because I think that this voiceless woman — thrown away by society, and issued a number instead of a name — deserves for her voice to be heard. Jamie was chosen to attend the opening of the Riker’s Island library because she’s such a passionate reader and writer. Poetry is her salvation; creativity is her escape; books are her best friends. She reminded me of all of you…of all of us.
I ask you to read Jamie’s words this morning, and to remember her today — and to remember all of your sisters who are living in confinement. Please send them your prayers and love, and know that every single one of them has a story that would stop your heart, if only you could hear it. Remember: These women are not “Others”. There are no others; there is only us.
MIRROR ME, by Jamie Ferreira
I have been faced
with the struggle of finding self,
In this Hell where I’ve been placed
on someone else’s shelf.
I am seen by society, labeled
by their brand…animal caged,
a thing only known to rage.
This is the picture they draw,
like they are perfect, and have no flaw.
Let he cast the first stone,
who has no sin.
Love is not hatred,
and is supposed to win.
I stand, I fall;
I stand, I fall;
I stand…and now choose self above all.
No longer following or stumbling
because of peer pressure,
No longer feeling ashamed,
because our money was — and is — lesser.
I AM my brother’s keeper,
I am the only thing that makes me weaker.
I choose to finally make better choices,
to help others raise their voices.
I am not an animal barred,
I was just a child…scarred.
Just wanting to fit in,
Everyone telling me my life was a sin.
I have no regret about this time, and where I’ve been.
But this flawed system, my soul it will not win.
Palace Gate Counselling Service, Exeter
Counselling Exeter since 1994