Grantee Highlight – The Justice Project, Kansas City, MO

“Poverty is not a crime, it’s a human rights issue” – Kris Wade, Executive Director and Founder of The Justice Project

Miss X is a 64 year old clinically diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic with frequent psychotic episodes. When members of The Justice Project met her while doing outreach at a local meal program/food pantry, they learned she had been chronically homeless and living in a homeless shelter for 10 years. This shelter was illegally taking her Supplemental Security Income and telling her payee that Miss X was receiving case management, mental health care, meals, and had her own room – nothing was further from the truth.

This story reflects the rough circumstances through which many women connect with The Justice Project.
Personal RelationshipsJusticeP3

The Justice Project is an organization that uses a model of long term support and compassionate advocacy to build relationships with women in poverty and partner with them as they navigate various legal systems. They nurture personal relationships with their constituents, and also encourage peer to peer relationships using a non-judgmental, trust building, strengths based approach that is humanizing and lets the women know The Justice Project will support them as long as they choose to be engaged in the program.

This year, The Justice Project instituted a one-on-one budgeting program that helps women utilize their limited resources better. As they learn to budget they are also helping other women learn to do the same. These kinds of one-on-one programs and relationships support women taking the necessary steps to build the lives they want.

Systemic Change

But Kris Wade, the Executive Director and founder, and others involved in The Justice Project know that personal relationships with the women aren’t enough to change systems. The Justice Project is also concerned with generating greater understanding within the systems that are in place to help women experiencing poverty, which is why they build relationships with other community organizations and individuals in positions of power in the community. The Justice Project partners with the local Juvenile and Family Court services providing informational trainings for judges and prosecutors on understanding and working with system challenged women and girls in poverty (including transgender women). They are also members of the Missouri Department of Corrections Re-entry Program community advisory board and meet quarterly with the police chief of Kansas City, Mo. advising him on how their participants are being treated by police out in the streets. Kris Wade tells us, “Once system folks understand the challenges of our constituents as a human rights issue, and are able to see their progress, they become more amenable to working in better ways with the women.”IMG_6798

Most recently, The Justice Project was appointed to the Kansas Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Advisory and Policy Board. This board is composed of state legislators, law enforcement, court personnel and service providers and helps create options and policy regarding prostituted and other trafficked persons. Because many of the women they advocate for and partner with are survivors of sex trafficking and prostitution, this is a critical place for The Justice Project to have a voice. The Justice Project members are active participants in the Coalition Against Human Trafficking, which was spearheaded by the United States Attorney’s office in the Kansas City, Mo. area. They routinely partner with FBI and local police on trafficking and prostitution stings, providing ongoing onsite support for recovered trafficked women and girls.

The Justice Project also does outreach to at-risk youth, and constituents often participate in this effort. This has helped both the young people who are at risk and the women who are participating in the outreach program see that even the most challenged individual can make great progress – the kind of progress Miss X was able to make thanks to The Justice Project’s compassionate, human rights approach that tackles the issue on both a personal and a systemic level.

Success

Over time, The Justice Project built trust with Miss X. Eventually they got her out of the shelter that was exploiting her and she was able to see a compassionate psychiatrist who prescribed psychiatric medication injections that did not require Miss X to take oral meds (which she had a hard time remembering to do). As her mental illness became better controlled, she gained control of her life. With the help of The Justice Project, Miss X partnered with the nonprofit organization that serves her, and she was able to get into an apartment where she has successfully been living on her own since last October.sabrinavotes

The Justice Project also guided Miss X through the social service system, and she now has food stamps and supplemental health insurance in addition to Medicare. She is also now involved in a women’s crafting group where she is building friendships and has the opportunity to be productive and creative. The work of The Justice Project has caused the initiation of an investigation into the unethical and criminal practices of the shelter that is ongoing.

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Issue of Justice – Summer Reading List

Mary’s Pence recently sent out our Summer Reading List. Each summer we enjoy sending out this list because we know that you, our supporters, are intelligent and curious people who seek to know more about the world around them. In growing our understanding of the world we discover injustices, but we also discover innovative solutions to these injustices. Most importantly, we find hope and healing in community. This is what our Summer Reading List represents.

The books on this year’s list were placed in four categories: Black Lives Matter, Latino Voices, Dynamics of Change, and Food for the Soul and Body. Click here to see the full list.

Black Lives Matter:
The books in this section link to conversations around the Black Lives Matter movement by providing historical context and personal accounts. Understanding the narratives of Black women and men is critical to creating a world where all are valued and feel safe.
• Fire in the Ashes – Jonathan Kozol
• Warmth of Other Suns – Isabel Wilkerson
• Men We Reaped – Jesmyn Ward
• Brown Girl Dreaming – Jacqueline Woodson

Latino Voices:
The authors highlighted in this section share individual stories as well as knowledge about Latin American history and politics that is vital to understanding these stories. Each author not only pulls the readers’ heartstrings, but offers insight into how to navigate and overcome systemic injustice.

• La Verdad – Lucia Cerna and Mary Jo Ignoffo
• The Violence of Development: Resource Depletion, Environmental Crises and Human Rights Abuses in Central America – Martin Mowforth
• In the Time of the Butterflies – Julia Alvarez
• Amor and Exile: True Stories – Nicole Salgado and Nathaniel Hoffman

Dynamics of Change:
This section touches on a variety of big issues including climate change, poverty, and war. The importance of community and solidarity is again key, as these issues are all rooted in the same systemic dysfunction, and can only be addressed in their larger context as issues of justice.
• This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate – Naomi Klein
• Thank You For Your Service – David Finkel
• The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of Legendary Catholic Social Activist Dorothy Day – Dorothy Day

Food for the Body and Soul:
We included this inspirational section as a reminder of Mary’s Pence roots in the values of Catholic Social Teaching and Feminism. Hope is found when the world is seen as a community and we work in true solidarity.
• The Vision of Catholic Social Thought: The Virtue of Solidarity and the Praxis of Human Rights – Meghan J. Clark
• In Her Kitchen – Gabriele Galimberti

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Meet Gabriela – New ESPERA staff!

In June, Gabriela Bandini joined the Mary’s Pence ESPERA staff. We warmly welcome Gabriela and are excited about what she brings to this program. She will be working closely with our current staff – Gilda Larios, founding staff of ESPERA, and Eva Martinez who partners with Gilda and who is the primary support for several groups in El Salvador and the groups in Honduras.Gabriela

We have done a lot with a small staff since ESPERA started just shy of 7 years ago. We knew there was economic need, and we knew women are better able to impact their community when they are organized and have a voice. We deliberately created a flexible program, one that is co-designed with the women on the ground. Initially, it was critical to build relationships, and get the lending pool money circulating in each group. ESPERA has grown – from 3 groups in 3 countries, to 9 groups in 6 countries. Over 900 women have used ESPERA loans, and there is over $120,000 in circulation. Gilda and Eva, our existing ESPERA staff, have put on many miles visiting groups. During this time they have supported the women as they got their money in circulation, nurtured small businesses and sometimes struggled with organizational and leadership issues. At this point in ESPERA’s growth it is clear that women’s businesses need increased business skills to really grow, and that some groups can use additional leadership and organization development. Adding Gabriela to our staff provides a real opportunity to heighten the impact of the program.

Gabriela comes to us with a degree in International Business by the University of Monterrey and an International Masters in Rural Development by the consortium of four European Universities under the Erasmus Mundus program. She currently lives in Mexico City, and grew up in Puebla, Mexico. She brings a passion for working with women for equality and inclusion, and promoting community and solidarity economies. She has a special place in her heart for working with rural and indigenous women. Hiring Gabriela is increasing staff reach, and enriching the skills we bring to this work.

Donor support, based on a real appreciation of the ESPERA program, is what made this possible. As our donations ticked upward over the last couple of years we were cautious about increasing our budget, until we knew the increase was sustainable. And it is! So, with a combination of reserves (just what they were meant for), grants and new donations, we knew we could make an ongoing commitment to supporting ESPERA in this way.

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What Mainstream Feminsm is Missing

Grace Garvey-Hall is the Development and Communications Liaison at Mary’s Pence. She started working with Mary’s Pence in March, but also worked as an intern in the Summer of 2014. She is a Minnesota native, but having had the opportunity to live and travel abroad, as well as live in a variety of communities in the United States, she is deeply invested in global feminism, and the well-being of all women.

 

Strong, independent woman.

That’s the phrase I hear tossed around a lot among my friends – to describe themselves as empowered or to describe a woman they admire. I too use this image as an example of the kind of woman I want to be.Equality-feminism
It’s a daily struggle, though, because I often feel weak. I need the help of others because there is still a lot I don’t know. And on top of that whole “needing other people” thing, I have a very clear goal in mind of becoming a wife and a mother some day. I love to cook, bake pies, and my next project is learning how to sew. All of this neediness and joy I just so happen to find in traditionally female activities felt like a crime against feminism, and against that strong, independent woman I still also want to be.

It doesn’t help that the ideas I hear associated with strength and independence seem to have become increasingly extreme: she doesn’t need a man and doesn’t need anyone else; she climbs the corporate ladder, trampling everyone else on the way to the top; she makes her own money, pays her own bills, and buys her own cars, but only the newest models. We can’t deny that these are the “feminist” images we are bombarded with in television, music, and movies.

Where does my pie-baking fit into all of that?feminism 1

What I’ve realized is that this all-powerful, independent woman that we have made the poster-woman for feminism is actually missing something. This mainstream example of feminism is a woman on her own. Though she might have a posse, followers, she doesn’t have a community. And really, doesn’t that take away her strength?

Let’s not forget that feminism is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.” Feminism is not trying to make yourself the woman who’s on top, it’s about striving for equality for all.

Independence is a great thing for a woman to have. But we should not be afraid to be in community with others. I mean this in two ways: firstly I believe that there is incredible strength in vulnerability. It is important to create a network of people who will support us and whom we can support in turn. This is a necessary first step to the larger goal.feminism-womens-day-poster

Secondly, being in community with others as a feminist means looking at our sisters across the globe and doing the work to embrace them. Feminism values solidarity – that is community across boundaries. We throw around words like inclusivity or global feminism. What we mean is that community doesn’t end at our doorstep, or our neighborhood. If we are feminists, we are advocating for women’s rights – all women’s rights. And empowerment is not a solo act.

Grace Garvey-Hall

 

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Mary’s Pence at Intentional Eucharistic Communities Gathering

Margins were front and center at the fourth national conference of Intentional Eucharistic Communities: Living the Gospel, Collective Voices, which took place near the Mary’s Pence office in St. Paul, MN this past weekend.

Diann Neu at Intentional Eucharistic Communities gathering in St. Paul, MN

Diann Neu at Intentional Eucharistic Communities gathering in St. Paul, MN

Intentional Eucharistic Communities are small communities, rooted in the Catholic tradition, that gather to celebrate Eucharist on a regular basis. While some communities exist within parishes, others were created completely independently from the church structure. Each community has a slightly different model based on what feeds the people who are gathered together. These models include a variety of leaders including women-priests and lay people, as well as alternative liturgies, dialogue homilies in which many voices respond to the lessons and gospel texts, and lots of singing. Despite the diversity of models, each community shares a spirit of inclusivity, love, and justice, and a desire to share the holy meal with each other as a reminder of who and how they want to be for the world.
No wonder we met so many Mary’s Pence supporters there!

Jamie Manson speaking at the Intentional Eucharistic Communities gathering in St. Paul, MN

Jamie Manson speaking at the Intentional Eucharistic Communities gathering in St. Paul, MN

The Friday night Keynote speaker was Jamie Manson, author of Grace on the Margins, a column that appears in National Catholic Reporter. She spoke of her own painful experiences living on the margins of the Catholic Church and of society. But there was hope in her statement that that “God experiences full solidarity, in the radical sense, with those on the margins.” As I think of all of the women Mary’s Pence works with, who truly live on the margins of their societies I am buoyed to know that God is with them, that God isn’t high up or away but instead in the midst of us.
Going further, Manson exclaimed that “God’s people are hungry now and their voices are God’s voice crying out from the margins.” It is so powerful to think of the women who participate in ESPERA and who work for justice through the Mary’s Pence Grants programs and know that their voices and God’s voice are the same. When we work to amplify women’s voices in their communities, we work to amplify God’s voice, speaking out for justice.
The other speakers at the event were Roger Haight, S.J. and Miriam Therese Winter as well as a number of breakout speakers including Diann Neu, a former Mary’s Pence Board member. We also enjoyed fabulous music by Sarah Thomsen throughout the weekend.
To all of the wonderful supporters of Mary’s Pence, both new and old, that we met at the Intentional Eucharistic Communities gathering, we are so happy to have had this chance to speak with you and to be in community with you.

2015 IEC Gathering – Sarah Thomsen

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Where Have All the Children Gone?

Reuters.LatinoPost.Aug32014 Border Guatemala and Honduras

Border Guatemala and Honduras. Reuters. Latino Post. Aug 3, 2014

Sr. Pat Rogucki, Mary’s Pence Board member, has been traveling in Central America for the past 26 years. She has an intimate knowledge of the people and culture there. In this post, she reflects on the tactics used in Mexico and the U.S. to deal with people who immigrate, not seeking better lives, but simply to live.

Last year at this time, there was a surge of unaccompanied youngsters coming across our southern border from what has been termed the Northern Triangle, referring to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. These countries were and are known for their growing gang violence. Honduras has been the murder capital of the world for several years now. San Pedro Sula in the north, holds that same title as a city.

An editorial writer for El Salvador’s daily, La Prensa Grafica, (June 29, 2014) describes that journey as one fraught with dangers, and the destination as one full of rejection, and the life of an immigrant without papers as one full of sorrow to the highest degree. Why embark on such a journey the writer queries? Because there is the possibility of survival. The alternative is to face certain death at the hands of the gangs in their country. Once across the border, they could tell an immigration official that they have a credible fear of death if they return home. There was hope for asylum and most of all, reunification with a parent who was already living in the U.S.

The Baltimore Sun paper recently reported that there is no longer a surge of minors crossing into the U.S. So, where are they? On a recent trip to El Salvador, my friend and I discovered that these children and adults are still heading north for the same reasons. However, due to an agreement between the U.S. and Mexico in which the U.S. promises $86 million in funding to upgrade Mexican checkpoints, roadblocks, and naval bases, there is a concerted effort for Mexican officials to arrest immigrants for deportation back to their home countries.

Orlando Sierra. AFP. Getty Images -Honduras Washington Post July 2

Orlando Sierra. AFP. Getty Images. Honduras Washington Post . July 2

There is such a receiving center for Salvadorans on the outskirts of the parish where we work in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. We saw the blue and white Pullman Chiapas buses that had arrived from Mexico that morning, three a day, filled with children and adults. Several Honduran women later told me that sometimes they get 5 a day. In fact they are now planning to build another receiving center because the space they have, although seemingly adequate, is not large enough.

A young man outside the huge black metal gates of the receiving center told of his experience. He left to find work in the U.S. He was not going to lie around on our streets or rob anyone. He just wanted to work so he could help his family. He said they were treated well in terms of being fed, allowed to shower, and given a ride back in the bus. Once they arrived, they all went inside the center to be processed, finger printed, etc. Adults are released to find their way back to their respective villages. The children, many of whom were on their way to be reunited with a parent, must wait for the bonafide in-country caregiver, an aunt or grandparent, to come for them.

What happened to the migrant’s right for survival, to seek safety? What is the cost to U.S. tax payers for this agreement with Mexico? What fate befalls the youngsters and adults once they return to the violence?

Sister Patricia A. Rogucki, SFCC

El Salvador / Honduras border, El Poy, El Salvador, 1988 Salvadoran families make their way  to the the village of Guarjila in a caravan of buses, after leaving the Mesa Grand refugee camp in Honduras. Copyright © Donna De Cesare,1988

El Salvador / Honduras border, El Poy, El Salvador, 1988
Salvadoran families make their way to the the village of Guarjila in a caravan of buses, after leaving the Mesa Grand refugee camp in Honduras.
Copyright © Donna De Cesare,1988

For more information on the U.S. agreement to help Mexico boost deportation read Mexico Deports Record Numbers of Women and Children in US-driven Effort: “Adam Isacson, a security expert at the Washington Office on Latin America, told the Guardian: ‘Migration is not a political issue in Mexico. They would not have grabbed on to it without increasingly loud complaints and prodding from the US to do something about it. Frontera Sur is only about catching migrants, and sending them back before they make it to the US.’”

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/04/mexico-deports-record-numbers-women-children-central-america

 

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Meet Mary’s Pence: Paige

Good morning donors, grantees, and other Mary’s Pence supporters! I would like to take this opportunity to introduce myself. My name is Paige King and I am excited to announce that I have recently assumed my new role as the Social Media and Communications Intern for Mary’s Pence this summer! Here’s a little bit about myself:

Blog Pic 1I am currently a senior at Bethel University pursuing a major in Business with a double emphases in Marketing and International Business and a minor in Psychology. As an International Business student, I have been blessed with an outlet to study two foreign languages of my choice: Spanish and Arabic. Upon completing my undergraduate degree in the fall of 2015, I plan to attend graduate school for an MA in International Marketing. My ultimate goal is to have a global career encompassing brand building and enculturation studies with a focus on emerging markets in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East.

Throughout life, I have always had a passion for people and hearing their stories. It was through a semester abroad in the Middle East where I truly discovered myself and my purpose. Having the opportunity to immerse myself in another culture for an extended period of time was enriching and humbling at the same time. Because of that experience, I now make it a priority to continually make a genuine effort to look at life through a lens other than my own. Since making that decision, I have found that I feel the most empowered when I know that I am empowering others. Zig Ziglar once said, “You can have everything you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” As I carry out my aspirations not only as a business professional, but as a woman in the world of business, this is the attitude I want to have moving forward. There is no decision I want to make in furthering my own goals if it is not in accompaniment with putting someone else on the path they desire for themselves.

It is for these reasons that I was drawn to Mary’s Pence and their vision. I am thrilled to work for an organization with such a conviction for empowering women in their own communities. Even if the role I am able to play on the behalf of Mary’s Pence is a small one, I am enthusiastic about that role because I know I am behind an organization with a cause which is making people’s lives and communities better everyday.

“My mission in life in not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” – Maya Angelou

Blog Pic 2

 

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Humanizing Mothers & Daughters of Incarceration

This post was written by Michelle Dahlenburg, the Artistic Director of Conspire Theatre. Conspire Theatre is a Mary’s Pence Grant recipient that gives women dealing with incarceration a healing and empowering experience though theatre and creative writing. They lead weekly theatre workshops for women incarcerated at the Travis County Correctional Complex in Del Valle, Texas.

“The night before I go to prison, my children ask, ‘Mommy, when will you come home?’ The only way I can explain it is, ‘Tonight it’s going to get dark outside, and you are going to go to sleep. And when you wake up, the Sun will be out. And this will happen a lot of times, and then, I’ll be home.’” –Lauren Johnson, performer, Mothers & Daughters

Photo by Daniel Cavazos.

Photo by Daniel Cavazos.

As of 2010, there were over 113,000 women incarcerated in United States state and federal facilities. Approximately 7 in 10 women under correctional sanction had children under the age of 18. (Bureau of Justice Statistics: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/)

Pregnant women who are incarcerated often face stigma from officers, lack of prenatal healthcare, forced inductions, shackling, making decisions about adoption or foster care, and being quickly separated from their babies after birth. Incarcerated mothers cope with separation from their children and challenges with reuniting their families after release. After incarceration, “a formerly incarcerated woman may be treated poorly by others, denied access to housing or employment because of her criminal history, or internalize feelings of worthlessness because of the lowered expectations of those around her.” (Juliana Van Olphen, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2685368/ )

During incarceration and after, all women need safe, supportive spaces to heal from trauma, and connect positively with communities to support one another. Scholars Alison Pedlar and Susan Arai recommend “fostering greater openness within the community, to encourage coverage of positive activities, to help balance the presentation of images and stories that deepen public fear and stigmatization of the women.” (http://www.researchgate.net/publication/262910851_UNCERTAIN_FUTURES_WOMEN_LEAVING_PRISON_AND_RE-ENTERING_COMMUNITY)

Photo by Daniel Cavazos.

Photo by Daniel Cavazos.

Conspire Theatre offers incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women a healing and empowering experience through theatre and creative writing. Since 2009, Conspire has led weekly theatre workshops for women incarcerated at the Travis County Correctional Complex in Del Valle, Texas. In 2013, Conspire launched Performing Possibilities, a new ensemble theatre program for formerly incarcerated women. Women create and perform powerful theatre pieces about their childhood, experiences in prison, and hopes for the future. Performing Possibilities uses performance to reduce internal and external stigma associated with incarceration within the communities of Austin, Texas.
In May 2015, Conspire led a development workshop and performance of a new theatre piece about motherhood and incarceration. Mothers & Daughters tells the stories of four formerly incarcerated women, exploring questions such as “What is a good mother?” “What is a good daughter?” “What’s it like to give birth while incarcerated?” “How does incarceration affect families back home?” The piece asks audience members to consider the social justice issues involved in women’s incarceration, and how they can support these women and their families.
Performing Possibilities uses storytelling to connect formerly incarcerated women to the Austin community and humanize the statistics. We challenge stereotypes about who goes to prison and why. Conspire performer Marianna Marchesini is a single mother of two sons. She says, “Like most of us who have found ourselves in jail or prison, I’ve lost a great deal of self-confidence. Conspire creates a safe space that helps me open up and tell my story in a healing way. By performing with women with similar stories, I release some of the shame. When we share our stories with audiences, it humanizes us. We’re not just numbers, we’re women with faces and names.”

Photo by Daniel Cavazos.

Photo by Daniel Cavazos.

Lauren Johnson, Conspire performer and board member, and mother of three, uses the storytelling skills she developed with Conspire in her advocacy work for people affected by the criminal justice system. Her current focus is passing a bill that will help drug felons in Texas get a second chance at qualifying for SNAP benefits. In a recent profile in the Texas Observer (http://www.texasobserver.org/direct-quote-an-inside-view/), Lauren tells a story about visiting the office of a state legislator and realizing that telling her story could make a difference. She tells the staff member, “I have a criminal history and my husband does too, and this is what we went through. And it dawns on me that the people who really need this help are too busy trying to survive to be thinking about coming up here to talk to you. They’re trying to make it from one day to the next, and changing the law is something that they aren’t thinking about. So I don’t need food stamps. But I’m here to fight for the people who do.” She says, “Conspire gives us the opportunity to change people’s perceptions and to have that dialogue, to have that human connection.”

During 2013-2014, the ensemble brought eight performances and three panel discussions to over 500 audience members in the Austin area. This year, with the support of Mary’s Pence, we will continue developing Mothers & Daughters, and bring the piece to even more audiences. We hope to engage our community in a larger conversation about the issues affecting women and families in Central Texas and beyond.

Photo by Daniel Cavazos.

Photo by Daniel Cavazos.

Click the link below for a photo/audio excerpt from our new piece, Mothers & Daughters.
https://vimeo.com/129517034

-Michelle Dahlenburg

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Why Teach Yoga to Prisoners?

Kathleen Bond, a Maryknoll Lay Missioner, originally received a Mary’s Pence Grant for her work in Paraiba, Brazil where she trained black women leaders in the areas of health, sexuality, human rights, and spirituality. Now, she does ministry in three different prisons in Sao Paulo, Brazil. As part of this ministry in one prison she runs a yoga program for women who are eager to strengthen their mental, spiritual, and physical health in preparation for healthy re-entry into society. Here Kathleen explains how yoga helps them accomplish these goals.

View from Santana Prison

São Paulo’s Santana Prison is the largest female penitentiary in Latin America with over 2,500 inmates. This is where Rosa Nascimento landed last November after being swept up in a sting operation for credit card fraud. The adjustment was tough. Rosa had gone from spending most of her days entirely outside, working as a street cleaner, to sitting in a cell for endless hours. She found herself becoming increasingly depressed until finally one day she didn’t even want to get out of bed.

Rosa’s cellmate suggested volunteering in the garden project, and slowly her spirits began to lift. On one of the transits from her cell to the garden through the sprawling prison complex, Rosa saw a sign for my yoga class. Now she is a veteran in the classes that I have shared with 10 women over the last 3 years. “Yoga has been good for me. I feel at peace going back to my cell,” she shared recently during an open space moment at the end of the weekly, 90-minute practice on a foggy morning. “Yoga changed my life in this place as it brought happiness to me.”

I am often asked “why yoga for prisoners?” Initially, my response focused on the prison school director’s request for yoga classes to help with concentration and self-discipline. Many of the women at Santana Prison have short attention spans and difficulties focusing on their studies. As a missioner and member of the Catholic Church’s Prison Pastoral, I have tried to give special consideration to requests from Brazilians, especially because so often I am asking them to be open to something I have to offer. I also felt it might be easier to do a project in the prison that some of the administrators and correction officers actually wanted.

After going through the red tape to get the project approved, the education staff boosted recruitment efforts by allowing me to give talks in their classrooms and place posters in the cell blocks. I also coordinated efforts with the prison health services to refer prisoners with emotional and anxiety issues to the yoga group and asked my Prison Pastoral colleagues to invite women they regularly visit to the class. But the best recruiting tool has often been the class participants who frequently bring me names and prison ID numbers, written on tiny pieces of paper, of cellmates they believe could benefit from a yoga practice.Edina Kathy Bond Santana prison 2013

Despite the support of the prison staff and inmates there are still set-backs. Some days I can’t get in because of security measures such as blitzes to search for cell phones, drugs, and weapons. Other days, reforms in the school or lack of organization in preparing the transits for the women to come to the class get in the way. Even when I am able to lead a class, we lack an appropriate place. The women sweep, mop, and spread out sprawls of butcher block paper on the floor before we gingerly lay down our pink and blue yoga mats which we purchased with funds from Maryknoll donors.

Throughout these frustrations, I keep at it. The reason why is my new, expanded response to “Why yoga for women in prison?”

Mental health tends to deteriorate rapidly in penitentiaries with many sufferers of anxiety and depression housed in close quarters. Yoga, especially breathing exercises, can offer powerful stress management tools in chaotic environments. A vigorous Yoga sequence requires no equipment and little space, which is particularly convenient in the small cells. I often tell the participants that they are cheating themselves if they only practice with me. I share many pose adaptations, which allows wider participation as the women are at varying levels. A basic rule is that if it hurts, stop. We work intensely on self-awareness, knowing our bodies and recognizing and respecting limits, which lays a foundation for positive change from the inside out. Classes focus on grounding poses such as the warrior series to promote centeredness.

There is often a gender component to female incarceration. Many of the women who have shared their stories with me are imprisoned in part because of relationships with men involved in crime. Trauma is the thread that weaves through most of these stories. Many have been abused as both children and adults. Some have become abusers themselves. Mike Huggins, founder of the Transformation Yoga Project stated in a recent article in the Huffington Post, “Most prisoners suffer from some form of complex trauma. Trauma may result from a lifetime of events including abandonment, domestic violence, sexual, drug and alcohol abuse. The effects are magnified when there are also other acute traumatic events, such as watching or participating in violent acts. Being in prison is itself a traumatic event! Unresolved trauma becomes the root cause of anger. What we resist persists. By opening a pathway for developing a mind/body connection, self-acceptance DSC09663and self-worth, mindfulness becomes an essential tool for developing awareness of our feelings and emotions. This is why mindfulness can provide courage for an inmate to stay out of a fight, to resist the urge to retaliate and to go inward.”

When I ask participants in my sessions how they feel after practicing yoga, the most common response is “at peace, with myself, with this place.” Yoga is beneficial for the difficulties of being in prison, but is just as critical for the mental preparation, self-regulation, impulse control, and stress management necessary for successful re-entry into society. Mind-Body work is a pathway to an attitude of surrender to the moment while maintaining hope and optimism for the future.

Kathleen Bond, April 20, 2015

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Community-based Solution to Trafficking

In Seattle between May 17-20, Mary’s Pence sponsored events that aimed to start conversations about and find community-based solutions to the global problem of Human Trafficking. Elise DeGooyer, a former Mary’s Pence board member, writes about the power of these events.

 

Our May events in Seattle and Tacoma, WA, succeeded in bringing community leaders together to explore our global problem of human trafficking. Four events in different venues highlighted the perspectives of our esteemed guests from the Philippines, Sr. Mary John Mananzan and Dr. Imelda Villar, and Dr. Valli Kalei Kanuha from Hawaii.
Mary’s Pence supporters, including former grantees, companeras, and donors, were present at each of the four events. Mary’s Pence was a key sponsor of the events along with 21 other community groups. More than 220 people attended the community forums, academic lectures, and group conversations. We are grateful to all our partners in this work to end human trafficking in our own backyards and across borders through policy advocacy, implementation and compassionate responses.

At University of Washington Women’s Center event (from left): Dr. Imelda Villar, Sr. Mary John Mananzan, former Mary’s Pence board member Elise DeGooyer, Sister of Providence Charlene Hudon, Mary’s Pence Companera Kay Van Stralen, and former WA State Representative Velma Veloria.

At University of Washington Women’s Center event (from left): Dr. Imelda Villar, Sr. Mary John Mananzan, former Mary’s Pence board member Elise DeGooyer, Sister of Providence Charlene Hudon, Mary’s Pence Companera Kay Van Stralen, and former WA State Representative Velma Veloria.

Dr. Kanuha presented the history of colonization and cultural trauma as creating fertile ground for trafficking and abuse; in her work against domestic violence in Hawaii she brings the whole community together for restoration for both victim and perpetrator. Sr. Mary John described the Philippine context of human trafficking and especially how patriarchy has created fertile ground for both sex and labor trafficking of women and children, illustrating with stories from her work at the Women’s Crisis Center in Manila. Dr. Villar, Executive Director of the Women’s Crisis Center and neuro-linguist, spoke of the long process of healing for victims of abuse and human trafficking.
Respondents and attendees brought their perspectives from their own contexts. Small group discussions at both the Filipino Community Center in Seattle and Catherine Place in Tacoma began to address next steps for communities to take, including ways to support the victims and hold traffickers accountable, proposing and implementing public policies, and changing the religious and cultural norms that contribute to the problem.

Gathering at Tacoma Dominican Center 5-20-15

Gathering at Tacoma Dominican Center 5-20-15

Our conversation circle in Tacoma perhaps best reflected the Mary’s Pence style of gathering–hosted jointly by Catherine Place, a former Mary’s Pence grantee, and the Tacoma Dominican Sisters and Associates who are deeply involved in the issues of human trafficking. Sr. Mary John, Imelda and Elise arrived after witnessing and calling police to help a woman poised to jump off a roof nearby. We entered the evening keenly aware of the fragility of life and the unmet mental health needs in our communities. We gathered in a circle of prayer and lively conversation, and ended with Sr. Mary John leading us in the healing movements of Shibashi, (which some like to call eco-feminist qigong.)
Bringing smart women and supportive men with grassroots experience together for community-based solutions—this was our goal and our achievement. This is the deepening of relationships and building women’s strengths that Mary’s Pence has been promoting for 27 years, through our Mary’s Pence Grants in the U.S. and Canada, and through ESPERA in Mexico, Central America, and Haiti. Now we will know each other as allies in our work to address our global problem of human trafficking.

-Elise DeGooyer

 

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