Louise Grant Blog: Vanity came to me in jail today holding a black purse with many pieces of handwritten letters woven on the outside of the handbag. “I had started creating this purse,” she said with emotion, “and then I learned my mom had died. I couldn’t finish the purse at first, but then I found letters mom had written me in jail and I used some of them to weave into the purse. I made this purse so my grandmother and I can remember my mom when we look at a picture of the purse.”
Amanda, our trainer, listened emotionally as Vanity shared this story with me. Amanda herself spent four years incarcerated while her own mother, Janis, cared for Amanda’s two children and spent endless numbers of hours sending prayers and letters to the daughter she loves and believes in. Mother-daughter stories touch Amanda deeply because of the enormous love and gratitude she feels daily for her own mom.
Amanda became so emotional when hearing Vanity’s story about the “mother-letter purse” that she turned away to hold back her tears.
I, too, was overcome with emotion in my heart. I remembered hearing the news just weeks ago that Vanity’s mother had died unexpectedly. When an incarcerated woman faces the news of a death of a close loved one while she is locked behind bars, there can be an unbelievable amount of regret on so many deep levels. For young Vanity, who is a recovering addict and is uncertain of her release date, she is facing those deep emotions now, and thankfully there is counseling and support in the jail for her.
She wove this “mother-letter purse” with such sensitive love. She is the first one to weave other people’s letters onto the outside of the purse, but I bet she won’t be the last, because the intent is so special.
While creating this special handbag, Vanity asked other cellmates to give her any letters or notes that they would like to contribute, and she wove those into this purse as well. And though we can’t see the detail of what’s written on each scrap of paper, undoubtedly they are filled with heart.
I marvel every day at what I gain emotionally by being inside the jail with the DreamWeavers as they create these one-of-a-kind handbags out of reusable paper materials. There is heart and soul in every single purse. When I hold each completed purse, I not only see their unique artisan beauty, but I also feel a connection to the incarcerated woman who crafted it gently with her hands and heart.
Today, I think of Vanity. She hopes her grandmother might one day hold the completed purse, once it has leather straps and a printed tag with Vanity’s photo and life story. I hope for that as well, because it’s a beautiful tribute from a young daughter to the mother who she loved but did not get to say goodbye to in this life.