When the women of the Larimer County Detention Center write letters to themselves, they coincide in addressing themselves as “beautiful.” While I am told that this is a gender stereotype (and the incarcerated men describe themselves in terms of what they can accomplish) — nonetheless I receive it as a strong embrace of themselves.
I did not feel at all beautiful in prison. A photographer friend who visited every few weeks was documenting women in Mexican prisons. She offered on repeated occasions to take a photo of me that I could have to remind myself of that time in Ixcotel. I wanted no more record than the frantic scribbles in my notebooks. I hadn’t looked into a mirror in all those weeks. Now, I would welcome a portrait of that stoic face that trusted in a whole army of friends and supporters and one oddly believable lawyer who took on the Mexican (in)justice system with the dexterity of a chess player.
I am surprised at how sounds and smells of my time in prison rush back when writing with the women in the LCDC. The memories do not hurt. Compared to these women who write of the impossible ache of missing their children and grandchildren, I was just passing time. Their beauty may come from a blossoming trust in themselves — that they can make it through this. In many cases, they may not have had that trust before. When the ideas and people they trusted on the outside crumbled bit by bit — they are what is left.
And they write all this, with black-ink Bics they are issued by the jail (often using up an entire pen in the space of a week — when they bring back the empty pen, they get another).
They read to each other and we cry and applaud together.
They know they deserve that applause.
That’s pretty much beautiful in my book.
I Practice Being Myself
My transparency is redundant.
I give away the oatmeal bars brought by friends.
I listen to their stories and imagine with them
that first day out, the sting in their nostrils
of roasting chiles on the kitchen comal.
I hand Susa her fringed blanket from the pile
so she doesn’t have to trip
over the tile of legs and arms on the floor
(as if they are only waiting for the popcorn)
to watch the soaps before sleep.
I practice being myself.
So that the angle and clang of this place
do not erase the petal and peace I had outside.
I brush against the coarseness, the concrete,
the clamor, without bruising.
I practice flow.
I do not stiffen.
Nor do I listen to the blackbirds in the pomegranate tree.
Their voices full of wind and cloud sadden me.