One of the most extraordinary experiences I ever had in my life was Thanksgiving in prison. Stripping us of all that we have certainly gives way for clearing the clutter and provides the opportunity to really know what is important. I must admit I have taken things for granted a time or two.
I was recently reading a wonderful Thanksgiving blog by David Protess, President of Chicago Innocence Project. It brought back so many memories of this day. In 2007, following my September wrongful conviction I remember waking up in Dallas County Jail on Thanksgiving morning. I felt sad beyond belief, Thanksgiving had always been one of our favorite family holidays. I could not imagine going through this day without my loved ones. I don't think I could have endured the thought of 2 more Thanksgivings like this, thinking I would be out on an Appeals bond in no time. I suppose it is good we are protected from knowing the future. It allows us to walk slowly through our life experiences and perhaps find something we might not have seen otherwise.
Indeed, that day I found some jewels to place in my treasure chest. When I started circulating that morning in the Day Room which was shared by 32 women I began to pick up the festive mood. Everyone was excited, this is the one day we were allowed a meal with "meat on a bone" meaning real meat as opposed to a soy pattie. But more than that I began to pick up a family feeling. With all our divergent backgrounds we had been creating a family, one that would be strengthened by that days events.
As I walked around talking to several women I found many were engrossed in the studies of their Bible. It seemed even more than usual. One woman from the streets, a beautiful lady really, informed me that they purposely get arrested this time of year so they have food and shelter. Hmm, I never really thought of that possibility for the homeless but it made sense I suppose. Another told me they just wish society would be kinder when they got out, as they really did want to work an honest job but nobody would hire them. People were really opening up that day, more so than I had seen in the two months prior, talking about their feelings, their hopes, their lost families. Perhaps I was just more open that day too, allowing myself to feel so many raw feelings of my own.
But what struck me even more was what happened about an hour before we had dinner. All the women started scurring around this enormous room gathering each other, holding hands and forming an enormous circle. Then a song of praise started with some of the most beautiful voices I had ever heard. The ceilings were two stories high and the accoustics were amazing. When the song ended one of the women said to the group we would pray together, going around the circle giving each person a chance to add to our prayer of thanks. And do you know what each person prayed about? You might think it was freedom, release, money....not any of that. Every single person there prayed for others...for family members, their children, their husband, their mom and dad, neices, nephews and each other. They prayed for their loved ones' safety, growth, health and happiness. They asked God for His presence in our lives as well as theirs. And some actually thanked God for being locked up so they could get away from drugs and all that was bad in their lives. It was a humbling and most loving experience and brought us all so close. There were a lot of tears, a lot of smiles. God's love was so evident. We sang old hymes together, remembered from our church days. And a couple women with exceptional singing voices did solos...the power of God in that room brought nothing less than awe.
Today, as I cook our turkey and sit at the table with my loving family to share our dinner I know I have been enriched by this experience and I know in the many prisons and jails across our Nation the people who have been silenced, many forgotten, are right now holding hands, praying for us and singing praises. Perhaps we can find a place in our hearts to pray for each of them and for a better tomorrow.