Authentic Relating in Prison

I had never been to prison before. In fact, I had been avoiding them as much a possible. A subconscious fear of confinement had existed within me for most of my life. And yet here I am, entering La Vista Women’s prison in Pueblo, Colorado, walking through a metal detector. As you enter and exit the prison you have so spend a few moments in a space locked between too large metal doors. My heart quickened as I waited for the guard to unlock one of the doors. How did I get here?

Several months ago I attended a workshop called The Art of Being Human, which focuses on improving relational skills with other human beings. It is a highly embodied and experiential course, using exercises to help develop skills to create more profound connection, intimacy and trust with those that we are in relationship with. For me this course was like fresh rain after a drought. I had witnessed in myself how a lack of effective communication techniques had created misunderstanding and suffering in my relationships. And I witnessed first hand how several of the communities I had lived in over the years simply lacked these conscious relating tools, that over time led to an inability to navigate out of a number of destructive and painful situations.

After the Art of Being Human course I became inspired to register for the facilitator training in December and to volunteer with the companies non-profit branch which visits prisons in Colorado, offering a similar two-day workshop for inmates. Fast forward a month, and with a team of 5 volunteers, we traveled to Pueblo, Colorado, set ourselves up in a modest Air B&B and prepared to go into the prison the next morning.

The metal door unlocked and I found myself in the visitor room of the prison, a sterile space with many chairs and tables, several humming vending machines against the wall. Several of the inmates were already in the space, and very quickly I relaxed as I began to feel the welcoming and warmth of the women in the room. We shared some laughs as we figured out how to divide 10 stickers into 24 name tags and prepare the space for the two-day workshop.

The course proceeded and throughout the two days I was able to participate and help facilitate the growth and opening of this amazing group of women. It was incredible to observe the shift of energy from the first morning until the second afternoon when we closed. One of the biggest sources of conflict in women’s prison is rooted in personal relationships, and again and again the women shared how the tools and practices they were receiving were providing immediate relief and improvement in their relationships. For me, there was also a tremendous amount of learning and growth. During lunch or other breaks I was able to learn much more about prison life, the challenges and the some of the surprising sustenance’s and resources that exist within prison life.

During the exercises themselves, I discovered much more about the personal stories of the women – and I was really confronted with the assumptions I held in my mind of who ‘these people’ are and what they are like. Most of these assumptions were really challenged and had to be discarded as I saw that many of these women are just like you and me, except they may have made a mistake in their life, struggled with addiction or have found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

A very profound moment for me was when I role played with one of the inmates who was being released in a week. In front of the entire group we practiced scenarios that she was soon to be challenged with as she returns to civilian life. There were so many subtle aspects potentially pulling her back towards prison, yet with the support of the facilitation team and the other inmates, I witnessed this woman gain a confidence and insight into how to proceed and I felt much more assured that she would be successful.

I left La Vista with a sense of great connection, humbleness and desire to continue working in this field and helping offer such profound tools to people who desire them and don’t typically have the means to access them. If you are interested in supporting this project, please consider making a tax deducible donation!

Here is a short video from a previous visit to La Vista prison: