The days and weeks in prison are always the same, the routines have a routine. While my surroundings are constant my feelings, my spirituality, and my emotional well being all fluctuate greatly.  Some women come here and spend their time working out for that perfect prison body:)  Others get involved in destructive prison relationships.  A sad practice that is far to prevalent. The environment in prison can be difficult, but it’s still a place where healing can take place. It’s extremely painful to be separated from our families, and we all find different ways to deal with that pain. I am learning that my environment doesn’t determine my happiness.  If I am humble, and have peace in my heart, I can take that peace wherever I go.  Last Saturday I was fasting and after taking pictures all day I was exhausted! I walked by a small music room looking for a quiet place to rest and found 3 women reading scriptures. One of them was a co-worker and she asked me to join them.  She said with a smile, ” Portia, would you like to join us? We could use another person in here.” (The room was very small:) I was emotional, and my friend could see that I needed the support so she gave me a hug and asked if I would like to offer a prayer.  I gladly accepted the offer and I prayed for peace, and strength to keep going.  I said, “Father in Heaven, we a few of thy daughters in prison are united in prayer, and need to feel your love. We are gathered as sisters seeking comfort, and ask you to bless us with thy spirit. Please help us to be a light in this prison, so that other women seeking comfort may find us. We need each other here, and pray for the opportunity to serve others.”  When I finished my prayer and looked around the room all the women had tears streaming down their cheeks. In our humility we were blessed with a sweet spirit of love and comfort.

A few days later two new women on our compound were in my department looking to sign up for classes. One of the women said: “I wish I could find a class on self forgiveness. I am having a hard time forgiving myself and would like to find some support.” She told me that she went to psychology and asked for help, but was told the prison only offers self forgiveness classes to drug addicts? I invited them to to sign up for our Explaining Your Conviction class and told them that I would love to participate in a self forgiveness support group. I said, “Women get together here all the time to crochet and work on craft projects, why shouldn’t we get together and share our burdens?” We had our first support group meeting on Tuesday night, and it went really well.  At the meeting we took turns sharing our experiences, strength, and hope, and much healing took place. After the meeting I remembered my prayer asking our Father in Heaven to help us be a light, and find others who were seeking comfort.  Our prayers had been answered! I ran into one of the women from our support group on the track yesterday, and she told me that after our meeting she felt like a huge burden was lifted from her shoulders.  She added that, “It’s like I can see the light at the end of the tunnel! I’m starting to feel like this time will pass, and I will have a life again!” She told me that when she was indicted she had briefly contemplated suicide. She said, “This has been the hardest thing I have ever been through; I have felt so hopeless for so long! Walking on the track gives me peace, and I’m starting to have hope again!” I smiled and told her: “The track has been my sanctuary too.”

A while back I was eating lunch in the kitchen when a woman came running in crying. She stopped in the middle of the cafeteria to catch her breath and said: “I got my clemency you guys. Jesus did it, I got clemency!” We all stopped eating and looked at her, then the cafeteria got really quiet. She was sobbing and just kept saying: “I got clemency! I can’t believe it, I got clemency!” All at once the kitchen erupted! We started clapping, cheering, crying and hugging each other. It was quite a sight to behold! 200 women hugging and crying not caring if they knew the person next to them or not. The spirit was undeniable! I think it is impossible to describe what it would be like to get a 30 year sentence? This woman left 2 small children over 12 years ago, and still had 14 years left of her sentence. She was given a 30 year sentence on a conspiracy charge. A conspiracy charge means she knew someone who was dealing drugs and didn’t tell on them. 30 years! I have watched this lady walk around the track, read her bible, and pray since the first day I got to Waseca. She left prison on Friday, and returned to her family; He is a God of miracles! I was grateful I was able to be there when she shared her clemency with us; I won’t ever forget that moment!

I attended a motivational workshop this week, and really enjoyed it! One of the women that spoke was a social worker. She used to teach parenting classes at the prison, and I found her to be quit amazing! She said: “You all have advantages from this experience that many people in the free world will never have. You are resourceful! You have learned how to overcome obstacles that few will ever experience.” She told us, “I’m quite certain none of you would ever be afraid of a flat tire; you guys are fearless!” She talked about finding common ground when dealing with others, and gave us some really useful information. One of the things I liked most about the speaker was her ability to look at situations without judgment; a quality I aspire to have. In the afternoon session of the workshop 2 women who served sentences at Waseca spoke to us and shared what their lives have been like after leaving prison. Being in prison can feel a bit like having blinders on; we are so removed from the outside world and we forget that life will go on. It was refreshing to listen to women who have left prison and have a good life now. At the end of the workshop they left time for questions, and I asked them if they were glad they came to prison? The first woman became emotional as she shared how much better her life is now. She said:” I can’t even describe the difference. Prison made me a better person! I hated it when I was here, but it completely changed my life for the better. It might be the best thing that ever happened to me!” The other woman agreed that her life is much better now, and being a felon hasn’t kept either one of them from moving forward with their lives. Often we think of prison as a bad thing; it was good to hear a different perspective. I haven’t been writing as much lately; sometimes it feels like I’m sharing the same things over and over? I hope to hear something soon on my legal case, but I’ve been saying that for 6 months now:) I’m working on being patient, and humble, and as always I appreciate your love and support. I will keep you all posted on what comes next, and wish you all a very merry Christmas:)