A project supporting women prison…
Monday, September 24 2018, marked the first meeting of a group I created with several inmates in the women's prison here in Washington state. We're calling the group GOOD GRIEF, based on the work we intend to do. While I've been involved in one-to-one volunteer work for twelve years, supporting women in prison (and their emotional selves and healing), it was in reading the book Healing Through the Dark Emotions (shown in image below) that many ideas and seeds were planted for this group. It has now taken form 💗
Good Grief’s Aim
The aim of the group is to utilize the support, knowledge, and wisdom each person brings; to mend and strengthen relationships with ourselves and one another by creating a safe, confidential, respectful, and nonjudgmental environment to share and process; and to understand our stories as they are contextualized in the larger environment and world. Acceptance is a major component of the approach. This pertains to being willing to listen to and be present with difficult feelings, both our own and others’.
I began volunteering at Washington Corrections Center for Women in 2007, having done similar work the prior year at the King County Jail. This was part of a program called the "Inmate Support Project," an initiative of a Seattle-based nonprofit called Shanti that initially formed in the 1980's (also in San Francisco) to support people diagnosed with HIV. Shanti's work involved training and supporting volunteers to provide confidential, non-judgmental support to people in the community who were isolated, vulnerable, stigmatized, and experiencing grief and loss. In the late 1990's this was extended to incarcerated individuals through Shanti's Inmate Support Project. Seattle's Shanti dissolved in 2013 due to funding cuts by its parent nonprofit, but the inmate support work has continued through a small handful of people at WCCW, Monroe, and King County Jail. I've been the only such volunteer at WCCW since 2007. Prior to Shanti's dissolution, I helped plan and facilitate the four-day training program for potential new volunteers. I currently meet 1:1 with about 18 women each month, and seem to always have new referrals awaiting a first meeting. My primary role is as listener, being present to the difficult experiences these women are navigating. Some women I meet with for a relatively short period of time (a few months), and others I have supported over several years.
Nonprofit sector experience spans most of my adult working life. For over twenty years, the people I’ve frequently interacted with professionally have been impacted by one or more, sometimes all, of the following: disability, trauma, addiction, dementia, a life-limiting illness or injury, loss, incarceration, isolation and/or stigmatization. Concurrently as a visual artist, an abstract painter, I experience an inherent usefulness and restorative power in creativity and expression. For more than a decade I’ve sold and exhibited works in Seattle. I envision developing (or partnering with) a nonprofit to expand the volunteer presence at WCCW, doing related work, and also extend it to provide much-needed transitional support to women working to reintegrate into communities and establish meaningful lives post-incarceration.
The aim of this work and project will be to support the transformational recovery, reconnection, and restoration of women (currently and formerly incarcerated) into our communities—and I am open to the arts playing an explicit role in this aim, beyond the metaphorical.
If you would like to be involved now or in the future, or want to stay in the loop, I have added a mailing list here. I plan to post updates periodically.