Having direct correctional experience for 15 years, I’ve grown accustomed to feeling emotional energy of the incarcerated women. As a volunteer instructor and a mentor in prison and jails, I’ve felt women’s heartaches as they discuss recovery from drug addiction, pain of separation from their children and shame for crimes they’ve committed, often related to drugs or stealing. I’ve heard stories of childhood trauma that may have triggered early use of drugs and unhealthy partner relationships, which led to crimes and incarceration.
What I haven’t been exposed to, as has my co-founder partner Malinda Davenport-Crisp (executive director of Family Reconciliation Center, which counsels family members of incarcerated individuals), is the direct impact of incarceration on families and children. They, too, feel heartache as they hope for recovery of their incarcerated loved ones who often relapse time and again. These families, too, feel pain from separation, and the family caregivers carry an extra load of responsibility caring for children who aren’t physically with their mothers. These children usually both desperately love their mothers and are angry with them as well. These families, too, feel shame for the crimes committed by their incarcerated loved ones. Sometimes, some families face responsibility of knowing their own actions years ago or in the present day were in some way tied to the criminal lifestyles of the woman incarcerated.
This is all complex and emotional.
Now, with DreamWeave, we’ve been granted permission, through our partner, the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office, to share incarcerated DreamWeavers’ stories. We print their personally-written life stories and inspirational quotes on tags accompanying each purse. We share the women’s stories on dreamweavebags.com under the Stories section and on the Facebook DreamWeave page.
What I didn’t expect was to have family and friends of incarcerated DreamWeavers follow our stories. Many have become active followers, along with formerly incarcerated men and women who gain hope and pride seeing the artistry of these DreamWeavers.
These families’ show-of-support has impacted me.
A touching story is DreamWeaver Brandy, a 27-year-old incarcerated recovering addict and mother of a 5-year-old daughter. When Brandy writes the dreams she weaves into her purse, they typically revolve around being the mother she knows she is intended to be. She’s frustrated with herself that she keeps slipping back into drugs, despite family support. In her life story, she claims she’s a broken record but that today she’s determined to break the cycle and make her daughter proud. Brandy has created many purses as a DreamWeaver – a leopard puse (which my husband plans to purchase!), white, marvel comics with blue interior, magazine, a 4th of July Independence purse (for which we have special donation plans), music lyrics, purple wrapping paper purse, and others.
Her mother, Mary, began following DreamWeave on Facebook. When we shared a picture of a Brandy-purse and shared Brandy’s life story, her mother was filled with emotion. In April, she shared for us online a photo of herself and this message: “It was nice feeling the warm tears run down my face looking at her handy-work with the purses, as I’m so proud of her… they are beautiful purses, she is very talented…She is a great momma and daughter that I cherish…Trust me it’s been hard, but I will never give up on her as my parents didn’t give up on me… As the mother of Brandy, I’m very thankful for the DreamWeave team. Each day of sobriety is like money in the bank of life, giving the girls a savings account of a great life. Thanks DreamWeave for believing in what some would not…Don’t let your past determine your future…Thankful mom.”
Those words were touching for our DreamWeave staff to read. Since then, Mary has shared our Facebook posts, and more of Brandy’s family and friends have responded with support for all of the DreamWeavers. Their messages are: “We believe in you. Don’t give up on yourself. Remember you are worthy.”
With another DreamWeaver, Kayla, who created two beautiful purses before relocating to a drug rehabilitation facility, her stepmother, Karen, connected to DreamWeave on Facebook, seeking to buy a Kayla-purse to give to one of Kayla’s young daughters. Both Karen and Kayla’s dad visited our shop at St. John’s church. There was emotion shared by Karen and by Malinda and me as we felt the impact of Kayla’s incarceration on family members and pain-felt drug recovery that Kayla and others in her life were experiencing. When Karen picked up Kayla’s silver/white swirl purse, she hugged it to her chest. At that moment, I remembered a women at a Dismas House event whose comment about DreamWeave was, “There’s a person in each purse.” When Karen held Kayla’s hand-woven purse, I felt the truth of that woman’s statement. The essence of incarcerated Kayla was with us in that room. The dozens upon dozens of hours Kayla spent creating the artistic purse and weaving into it a life dream of stronger motherhood had helped build an unexpected new bridge between Kayla and her family. I was moved to witness the love. (see accompanying picture).
And there’s Velda. After suffering the deaths of both her husband and daughter, she made harmful choices that led to incarceration. Velda made beautiful purses with us – map, Bible, red, magazine and more. A grandmother, she was eager to return home to mend her life and begin dealing emotionally with the death of her daughter. Incarceration helped her realize her need to heal internally. She continues as a DreamWeaver since her recent release. She proudly brought her mother to our shop, as Velda picked up her DreamWeaving supplies. Mother and daughter stood shoulder-to-shoulder, proudly holding Velda’s purses on their arms — a new dawn for both of them and for Velda’s son and grandchild at home.
Another touching connection is with Ashley, one of our original DreamWeavers in our November jail program, graduating in January when our program moved out of the drug treatment housing unit into another housing unit. Ashley learned the art of DreamWeaving so quickly and generously taught others in our jail program the craftsmanship of purse-sewing. Ashley’s two favorites purses were her Bible purse with pictures of heavenly clouds and her calendar purse with majestic nature sceneries. A recovering addict and mother of 5 children, Ashley spoke regularly of her children, sharing pictures when mail was delivered during class-time.
In May on our Stories section of the DreamWeave website, we received comments on Ashley’s life story. A viewer commented that it appeared Ashley was super close to her family. Ashley’s daughter, Laura, responded to the commenter: “She is [close]. I’m her daughter and she’s like my best friend.” That same day, another daughter of Ashley posted her own comment on Ashley’s life story. LaLa wrote, “I love your purses momma,” and she placed a heart image next to the words.
Family connection runs wide and runs deep, whether we’re incarcerated or in free society. I didn’t understand that the venture into DreamWeave would wrap itself into the emotions of the families of the incarcerated DreamWeavers. But Malinda, Sherry, Amanda, Rebekah and the rest of our staff and volunteers are thankful that we are part of this emotion-filled journey. If this art-therapy purse program can, in even the very slightest way, help to heal a wound or tighten a bond, then it’s enough. It’s all enough.