I’m sitting at the women’s prison in Nashville, waiting for new resident for our transition house to be released. I know the routine here: let the officer attendant know that I’m here, pull into the back parking lot, and wait. And wait. The other day I was here waiting for 2 ½ hours in near 100 degree weather before being told that the woman I was supposed to pick up would not be released that day due to a snafu. Today the prison called and said she was ready to go, so here I am to get her again, and even though my arrival was delayed by about 45 minutes due to an accident on the road, when I got here I was told to wait. That was half an hour ago.
I don’t mind, really. Having patience and not having expectations are two things you have to learn really quickly if you work around the prison system. Those who live inside of it have to learn a lot more of this than I do. It’s an honor to pick these ladies up and bring them to their new, beautiful home at TPOM. So I’ll wait.
More disturbing to me is what I hear while I wait: gunshots, and lots of them. That’s because there’s a shooting range next to the women’s prison. Some days shots ring through the air almost continuously. When I was going inside the women’s prison to teach classes, I asked the women if these sounds affected them, and quite a few told me how gun violence had been part of their history and that hearing these shots again and again and again activated anxiety and trauma and even terror. Prison is not an easy place, y’all, and things like this just add to it.
So many of the women we work with have experienced deep trauma, even before they got to prison: sexual assault, sexual trafficking, physical assault, emotional abuse – these are common among the women we are privileged to serve. For many, these traumas began in childhood, and the coping skills they learned to deal with the traumas may have been helpful at one time, but now they cause more problems – like taking abuse without responding, or taking drugs to lessen the emotional and physical pain. It takes a lot of courage to go deep down into the hurting parts to figure out where all the pain is coming from and begin the process of healing.
At TPOM we work to assist in this process of healing. And that’s all we can do, assist, because it is the work of God and the women, not something we can just impose. But our part starts here, so I will happily sit and wait, knowing that whatever time it takes for this woman to be released, it is all worth it.
Dr. Cynthia Stewart