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From our final Voice class, Thurs., 12/13/12

jccohen's picture

What do you wish you/we could have talked about with the women at the jail?


I wish we could have talked about the tension of Bryn Mawr students being able to leave at the end of the day, or the broad topic of power dynamics between us.


I wish I could’ve known why the women wanted copies of Zehr’s book on the children of incarcerated people.  How could they actively choose to step face to face with such a poignant reminder of their failures and losses?


I wish we could have asked – and they could have told me – about the details of their lives.

Also, I wish we could have reflected together on what we learned by making art: What we learned about being creative/having agency within institutional structures; about finding our niches; about working collaboratively.


What did the virtual tour of BMC really make you feel?  I noticed you became very quiet and reserved. – to (a particular woman)

What did you expect from this class prior to starting it? – whole class


I wish I was able to ask about religion and its role in the women’s lives while incarcerated.  I also wish I was brave enough to share experiences I had in common and to admit some of my own faults to make the conversation more equal.  And why didn’t I just ask how they felt about us coming in and how they saw our class, outside of an escape from the monotony of the jail’s daily routine.


A conversation about racism and sexism in America, especially sexism.  I wanted them to explore how their crime is related to concrete, named circumstances greater than the individual’s wrong-doing.


A conversation about ways the prison/justice system could improve.  A conversation about fighting the system.


Do you like us?  Why?  Do you think we’re better (cooler, smarter) than you?  (can be directed either way)  the incarcerated women --- 360


I think I really wanted to talk about the social forces/institutions/environments surrounding these women’s experience and choices…  I think it just made me feel so trapped and sad to hear the internalized self-blame rhetoric, I just wanted to provoke some kind of answer, let them know it’s not all them.  It’s not that I don’t think people should be accountable for their choices…but I think I just wanted to lighten the weight I felt in their hearts and voices.


I wish we had brought two readings from earlier on in Barb’s class to the women in the jail – The New Jim Crow and Prisoners of a Hard Life – and had a discussion based on them.  I wish we had been able to talk more about the role that institutions play on our lives and particularly the lives of the incarcerated women.


I wish we could’ve talked more about how society and the government predispose these women to crime.  I just wish that in a way we could’ve helped them break from the notion that it’s all their fault.  But making it clear or helping them understand that they can break free from those predispositions.


I wish we could’ve talked explicitly about what’s behind the idea of ‘I made a mistake, I was bad, I need to do and be better.’  This is a conversation about opportunity structures.


Hm.  Maybe with my regular partner I would have liked to hear about her life – and what forces affected her – her experience with institutions and how her identity determined how those institutions treated her – if she sees that.  I would have liked to ask if she saw the systemic, semi-discrete racism inherent in all American institutions – especially the criminal justice system.  I would have liked to share my experience as a white middle-class person… I would have liked to share so much more than I did.


I wish that I’d been able to talk to them more about the institutions that contributed to them being at the jail.  I wish we’d been able to do the ‘visualize a prisoner’ exercise with them.  I wish we’d been able to talk more about ways to move on post-jail.


I don’t know what type of conversation I would’ve wanted with the incarcerated women because conversations shouldn’t feel planned out – they should be raw and unprotected (with walls taken down) in an intimate space like the one we created in the jail as a 360.  I just wish we didn’t talk about art, art, and art.  Sometimes the structured conversation felt insightful, other times it felt phony.


I wish that we could have talked to the women in the jail more about their (formal) educational experiences. 

-       do they feel they were on the school-to-prison pipeline?

-       How were/are our school experiences similar or different?

-       Do they think that our liberal arts education without a clear career path is useful?


I really, really wish that the New Jim Crow book we read with Barb at the beginning of the semester had been our text in the jail, and that we had been able to have class discussion with the women in the jail about the book and about ideas of racialized incarceration and larger ideas of racism in the criminal justice system.


I wish I could’ve talked about my personal life.  I wish we could have discussed the impact of social institutions and programs in a broader context:


foster care





-       power dynamics between us?

-       knot in my throat


I wish I could’ve had a conversation with them in which we discussed some of the issues that we’ve talked about in this 360.  Things like “the New Jim Crow,” the school-to-prison pipeline, the statistics on how race and prison are interrelated.  I think that this type of conversation would have made our work much more transparent.


-       How would you choose if you could go back in time to the place when the incident happened?

-       I think each one of us has sets of problems we need to deal with.  What made you react the way you knew you would get caught?

-       If it’s possible, what might be one thing you want to change about yourself or the system?