Blog – by Louise Grant –
“…but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep…”
When I recently met Bridget in jail as the newest DreamWeaver, she looked a bit wary of me, unsure. She’s young, likely in her 20s, like my kids. Unlike them, she’s wearing daily her red scrubs jail uniform and bracing herself for the journey of overcoming these wretched drugs that have beaten her body. But they haven’t drained her poetic spirit. And I have connected with that poetry that defines her essence.
I invite each incarcerated DreamWeave artisan to write a brief life story that we print on a small tag, with the woman’s photo and her own inspired quote. We place the tag on each purse that the DreamWeaver hand-crafts. My first conversation with Bridget was about the story she would write.
“Does it have to be about why I’m here in jail?” she asked. “Because that’s not the only thing that defines me.”
Good for you, I thought to myself. I’m thrilled that you remember you are vastly more than this drug-and-legal situation.
“What do you want to write?” I asked.
She smiled with assured pride. “About the time I walked across America. From California to Connecticut.”
“Now that’s a story!” I said. “You should tell it.”
“I will. I’m a Spoken Word poet.”
And that was when our first connection happened for me. My friend, Minton Sparks, is a nationally-known Spoken Word poet. A true artist. Living in Nashville, she tours the country and world, speaking at festivals about her Southern roots and hosting writing workshops for people who yearn to bring life to their inner stories. Minton is magical. I spent a week at a workshop in Spain she hosted called Eat, Paint, Write. I wrote in her writing sessions about how moved and healed I’ve become during my nine years of voluntarily mentoring and teaching incarcerated women.
I immediately thought of Bridget as a Spoken Word artist, sharing herself on stage at an open mic night at a Nashville Storytelling event. And I encouraged her to speak at one of these events.
“I think my friend Minton would love to hear you,” I told her.
“Drugs got me off track,” she said. “It’s why I’m here.”
“But it doesn’t define you, as you just said. And I imagine you have a powerful story to share about this particular journey. There are people who want to hear it.” As I spoke, she listened.
When I returned to the jail for my next class, I sat with the 15 DreamWeavers in a circle before we began hand-crafting the purses with the magazines, bibles, music sheets and gift wrap paper. I passed out printed copies of four of the women’s stories. Each DreamWeaver gives me her hand-written story, which I type and return to her. It’s perhaps my favorite part of DreamWeave – hearing the women bravely read their stories aloud to one another. Many stories are, sadly, all-too-similar. Childhood trauma, early drug addiction, incarceration, and the sadness of leaving deeply-loved children behind.
After hearing Lisa, Melissa, Kristina and Dee read aloud their emotional life stories, we dispersed to begin purse production. Bridget immediately came up to me and handed me a piece of paper.
“I’ve written my story and inspirational quote,” she announced, a bit hesitantly. Like a student turning in a paper to her English teacher.
“Great, let’s read it together,” I offered.
I sat against the wall on the floor in the large open bay of the jail’s housing unit, where more than 50 women live.
And when I read Bridget’s inspirational quote, I felt my second connection to her emerge.
“I have promises to hold and miles to go before I fold.” Her quote stirred within me.
I began reciting, taking me back to grade school and my love of poetry – “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.”
Bridget looked at me, surprised.
“Robert Frost, ‘Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening.’ It’s one of my favorites, since third grade,” I said. “It’s been in my memory ever since.”
“It’s one of my favorites, too,” she responded, smiling. “I was going to use his actual words but you asked us to create our own inspired quote, so I changed it a bit.”
“It’s perfect,” I said.
And we sat there, both of us crouching against the gray wall of that loud and busy jail, and, filled with deep peace, I spoke parts of the poem I still remembered. “Whose woods these are, I think I know, his house is in the village, though. He will not see me stopping here to watch his woods fill up with snow…”
And then I read further down her hand-written page, to Bridget’s life story. And my chest heaved with a dense pressure as I felt within me the emotion of her poetic words. Words of this young girl – young like my college-student daughter who is learning Italian this summer in Florence and is, herself, a beautiful writer in Manhattan. Words of this America-walker. This girl who knows Robert Frost poems. This Spoken Word artist. This recovering addict. This dreamer.
I have been sleepwalking through my waking life. I have been playing chess with myself, filling the board with polluted promises to me. Being both pawns and kings, I have been a loyal enemy and deep at the root of things and at the heart of nothing. I have been maliciously ambitious. With a head muddled with drugs and spinning with lies, I have come to despise my own reprise. But I have wasted half my life seeking truths that only needed recognizing. This lady I know handed me a mirror, and I saw how sick I’ve been for years, how I’ve hidden for years, how I’ve fought the world for years. She said that humility would be my savior and that it is only by repeated humiliations that I can learn something about humility. So I stand here before you now, because I want better. Bridget
“Is it okay?” she asked quietly, after I sat there for a long time with her hand-written paper gripped in my hands.
“It’s poetry. It’s your truth. It’s beautiful,” I said.
I looked at her against the wall. “I hope Bridget the Spoken Word poet emerges strong, because the world needs to hear from her,” I said. “Most importantly, you need to hear from yourself, because you are beautifully powerful.”
She smiled, moved from off the floor and returned to complete the sewing of her first completed purse. A beautiful black and white swirled-paper purse, with a personal life dream woven inside: “I dream I’ll find true humility, the ability to see myself for who I really am and work towards spiritual perfection.”
These DreamWeavers – these women behind bars – do indeed have promises to keep, promises to hold. Promises to themselves that they will remember the truth of their own intrinsic value and artistry, regardless of their current or past circumstances.