Blog Post – Louise Grant – I was a witness today of freedom.  DreamWeaver Melena walked into the jail housing unit with the officer, looked with shocked relief at DreamWeave trainer Amanda, at the group of women in red scrub jail uniforms and at me, and spoke the words she’s prayed to say all these many, long-endured months. “I’m going home.”

Her face was flush with utter peace as she broke into tears.  Her long brown hair and red scrubs were soaked due to the rainstorm after her appearance in court.  She looked small in the largeness of the towering two story housing unit with the 50 women who reside there as her “cellies.”  The DreamWeavers had been sitting at the tables cutting, weaving and sewing materials for their purses, while the other jailed women not in our program sat at tables writing letters home, chatting amongst themselves, crying or smiling into payphones, or checking in their cells to see if the puppies-in-training were still sleeping.  But after hearing Melena’s words, most got up from their seats and surrounded her, with shouts of joy and hugs of relief. A sisterhood of women in forms of brokenness lifting up one another.

I went to her and reached out to give a hug.  “Miss Louise, I’m all wet. I don’t want you to get wet.”  I teared-up as I hugged this young woman who has spent months finally realizing that she is worthy of another chance in life.   “Can you believe it?” she asked, her lips quivering.  “I’m going home today.”

The women stayed in a circle around her, listening to the details of the judge’s ruling.  Many of them feel like family to one another, after all – these women who are locked behind bars and with one another 24 hours a day.  They watch each other eat, sleep, go to the bathroom, complain, experience hope, doubt, fear and boredom.  Together through heartbreak phone calls hearing of parents who have transitioned in the night while their daughters were locked up, or of spouses who have decided to leave the marriage because of the challenge of staying together while apart.  They’ve joined together in celebrating as they see photos in a letter from home of a young son who won a baseball trophy or who graduated high school.  The celebrations are of joy for the child but more heartache for the mother who wasn’t there to see the celebration.  The mother who was battling drug addiction and made poor, poor choices that hurt many people and that violated her own sense of honor and commitment to herself as a woman of worth.

Melena became a DreamWeaver early in 2016 and is the longest tenured of any of the women in the program now.  She has created beautiful purses – having had such doubt in herself early on, saying many times, “I can’t do this.  It’s too hard to figure out.”  But her confidence emerged as each new purse was created.  The one she loves the most is a Breast Cancer Awareness purse, made with pink and white gift wrapped paper and small prints of the pink ribbon.  “Could we donate the proceeds of that one to the American Cancer Society, Miss Louise?” she asked me, as we sat together while she wove her special dream into that purse.  I told her what a great idea that was.

She first knew Amanda when they were younger and partied with the same friends, and then when they were both incarcerated.  They have a deep mutual connection, and Amanda has been a pillar of strength to Melena all these months as Melena has attended court hearing after court hearing with her lawyer, waiting to accept a deal that wouldn’t keep her locked away for years upon years.  I’ve been in the jail with DreamWeave on many days when she has returned from court, walking into the room with the DreamWeavers, saying nothing but just shaking her head “no”, indicating that release was not on its way.  Those, too, were days of heartbreak.  We all would sit silently with her, giving comfort that didn’t really comfort her, as she ached for the lost days with her children.  Amanda was always there, sitting next to her to support her, because she knew exactly what that emotion of disappointment felt like.

As Melena joined us at the tables with the DreamWeavers, she shared with Amanda, “I’m scared. Connecting with my children, housing, transportation, staying clean.”

“Good,” said Amanda.  “I like hearing that.  If you weren’t scared, I would be worried about you, because it would tell me you might be going back to the same routine.”

“You’ve got us,” Amanda told her, reassuringly.

Melena smiled and said, “I’m coming to the Family Reconciliation Center tomorrow to bring two purses, get paid, and get more supplies. And I’m going to talk to Miss Malinda about getting counseling for me and my kids.  And to get some clothes from St. John’s Church clothing bank.  I don’t have anything at all.”

I looked at Melena with such pride.  She is a strong young woman.  “Remember your worth,” I said.

“I never before would have believed it,” she said quietly.  “But I really feel it now.  I’ve been in here learning to forgive myself.”

As a woman who has never been addicted, has never been sentenced for a crime, has never had a loved one incarcerated, I have felt such an altering in my life as I’ve had the honor, as a volunteer, to witness the raw emotions of women who are living imprisoned.  They are imprisoned in so many ways.  Imprisoned by thoughts of unworthiness and unforgiveness.  Imprisoned by separation from loved ones and shame for the harm they’ve caused others.   Imprisoned from quiet solitude.  Imprisoned away from home.

This beautiful experience has reminded me of the powerful lyrics written by my dear friends – the enormously talented singer songwriters Annie Bosko and Jordan Lawhead of Nashville.  They perform prison and jail inspirational music concerts with me and with my friend Trina Frierson, CEO of Mending Hearts, who herself is a formerly incarcerated recovered addict and woman of immense compassion.   The last song Annie and Jordan always sing at each concert is their inspirational “Amost Home.”

I send their message of hope to Melena, to her family,  to the incarcerated DreamWeavers and to the countless others imprisoned by the circumstances of their own lives.

Read Melena’s story here.

“Almost Home”

So the story goes

Something’s gonna break your heart

There’s only one road

Before the dawn you gotta fight the dark

 

You’ve been on your knees

On the burning floors of hell

Waiting for a hand with living water from the well

 

Lost in the wilderness of wrong and right

The questions and ghosts, they keep haunting your mind

Your holding on feels like letting go

But don’t stop now you’re almost home

 

It’ll take your breath away

Shine brighter than a thousand suns

Tears are gonna fall, but keep your eyes on that horizon when you’re

 

Lost in the wilderness of wrong and right

The questions and ghosts, they keep haunting your mind

Your holding on feels like letting go

But don’t stop now you’re almost home

 

Heaven left a light on, heaven left a light on, heaven left on for you

On the other side, there’s a heart that’s true, with arms wide open just for you

Your holding on feels like letting go

But don’t stop now, you’re almost home.