Blog Post: Louise Grant — A message I received this week brought clarity about our DreamWeave journey: “Hi Louise, Just wanted you to know that I sold a handbag by Khankeo this afternoon. The woman who purchased it had just lost her daughter to addiction. She had buried her only a week ago. Thank you for allowing us to be a part of DreamWeave…”
The owner of a beautiful boutique gallery in Nashville shared this emotion-filled story with me. The starkness of the words has led me to think about the power of a purse.
When starting DreamWeave in 2015, the dream my two co-founder friends and I had was to bring hope and job skills to incarcerated women who feel broken in many areas of their lives, especially related to recovery from drug addiction, which affects more than 90 percent of the women we serve. And we desired to share the incarcerated DreamWeave artisans’ life stories and dreams as a way to reshape the public’s often-brutally-harsh perception of a woman behind bars. What I didn’t reflect upon was the potential nurturing aspect that a purse crafted by an addicted, imprisoned woman could have on the individual who purchases a handbag.
Now I have a deeper perspective, having read the message about the mother who is mourning the loss of her daughter and, I imagine, grieving over the anguish of how the drugs literally killed life, love and joy. And I feel touched, knowing this woman purchased a DreamWeave purse, hand-crafted by a recovering addict in jail who is dreaming of a new life fashioned out of determination and grace.
I see the DreamWeave purse in a new light. No longer do I think of it only as a vehicle for providing hope and financial freedom to the incarcerated women and as a means to alter negative public perceptions. Instead, I now see the purse as a piece of healing or hope for the owner of the handbag. And this new understanding feels powerful in ways I had not imagined.
I was eager to share this message of hope with our group of 18 incarcerated DreamWeavers this week as we sat in a group circle prior to beginning our purse-production. This circle-time is when we hear new DreamWeavers’ hand-written life stories. Ashley’s story spoke of the pain that drugs have brought to her life and to that of her two children who are missing their imprisoned mother. Morgan timidly read her story – one that, like Ashley’s, speaks of the suffering that drugs have brought to her since she began using at age 12 after the death of her mother. Now, 12 years later, she is emotionally, physically and spiritually tired of the trauma and drama, and she’s ready to be the mother to her young daughter she knows she can and should be. We then gave hugs of hope and encouragement to Linda, who had just been called by the correctional officers to pack her belongings in her cell because it was time for her to leave jail. She would be in route to a halfway house for recovering addicts, and Linda was deeply frightened that she wouldn’t have the strength to stay clean. All the DreamWeavers spoke encouraging words. “We believe in you.” “Work your program.” “Meet with your sponsor.” “Don’t go back to those old friends.” “Keep your faith in God.”
I asked the DreamWeavers if they knew how personally powerful they were to create good in this world. Most did not feel like they’d created much of value – except, of course, for their children. I went on to share with them the story of Khankeo’s purse being purchased by a grieving mother. They were deeply quiet as they focused on my words. Collectively, they’ve known too, too many women who have lost their lives to addiction. For some of them, they feel extremely grateful that they, themselves, are alive today.
“What you are doing in sharing your life stories and in creating these beautiful works of fashionable art is having a ripple effect,” I said. “You are impacting people’s thoughts about addiction and incarceration and, in the case of this woman, you may impact her life in some small way.”
“This grieving mother may see this DreamWeave purse as a piece of hope for other women in recovery. She might keep it as a remembrance of her daughter. I don’t know how the purse and Khankeo’s story is impacting her, but I believe it is. And your purses, along with your stories, are impacting each person who comes in contact with what you have created.” As I spoke this truth, I saw in these 18 women’s faces a touch of hope, of pride, of understanding that this work they are doing is much more than a paycheck for the incarcerated DreamWeaver. It’s much more than just a craft project or a social enterprise business. It truly is about the experience of finding freedom within and sharing it with others.
I think of Khankeo, the woman who created the purse bought by this grieving mother. Khankeo, who has been released from jail since April and continues serving as a DreamWeaver artisan, having created more than 30 purses and now hand-cutting the leather straps for DreamWeave purses. A recovering addict, she is living with new dreams today.
I think of the irony in this situation, because I’ve frequently told our financial donors that “it’s not about the purse.” We’ve focused instead on the fact that we are directly serving incarcerated women. But today, as I think with heart-felt emotion of that mother who buried her daughter, I am so extremely grateful that there is a purse that this woman now possesses. At least for today, it is about that purse. And, hopefully, it’s about the healing that will occur.