On a bitter cold night, we walked into what looked like the entrance to the transitional/halfway house for men in Colorado Springs. Two men were smoking outside as Lilly, Chloe and I quickly walked by them. I immediately noticed an odor that I expected in prison but, have not to this day noticed with the women.
The garbage cans were over flowing, TVs blaring and men were roaming around, talking, oblivious to us and yet taking note of our presence. I asked for the woman I’d been communicating with and we were told we were at the right place; so we stood there awkwardly waiting.
We then asked that they clear out the tables and that the men start to gather towards us and the CD player. It became evident that they were not notified we were coming to teach them dance and have a Q&A – so my awkwardness was only more palpable.
I started by explaining what we do and why – mentioning that Dance is often more healing than talk therapy, as talking is limited when approaching trauma. I said, “I would imagine that most of you have been through some serious shit” and I saw a few sad head nods. As we drove home Lilly kindly pointed out that maybe I insulted the therapist in the room who introduced herself before we started. Eek!
I then mustered up the courage to start moving and taught OT Genasis’s “Everybody Mad” where one man on crutches jumped into the choreography. I noticed I was somewhat performing rather than having the men dance with me, so I ended the song halfway through after having modified what I thought would be too provocative of movements.
I tried to pull the now growing crowd into dancing with me versus looking at me. I then played an earthy song called Jungle followed by Nicki Minaj. Lilly helped change the CDs and whispered under her breath, “You are so brave Lucy.”
Slowly they started to dance with me, smile and ask more questions. I was taken aback by how they looked like the walking wounded and by the level of chaos I don’t see in prison.
One older man with a thick white head of hair said, “Do you know about taboo?!” I was stunned into silence and said “No?” He then tried to explain what was Tae Bo! The other men rolled their eyes as he shrugged his shoulders.
This was coming off a three day training at the women’s prison in Pueblo which was kicked off by being rear ended on the highway heading south an hour before we arrived. We were saturated, my body was exhausted and Chloe was suffering from banging her head against the backseat of my car.
Forty five women in Pueblo signed up for our eighth or ninth teacher training so I spent most of my time asking them to be quiet as I led different exercises.
After each training there is a glaring lesson where I think I have solved the puzzle of what works and what doesn’t work.
I will never work with that large a group as my energy was drained spent trying to keep everyone’s attention. The same women whispered to their neighbor throughout the three days rather than sharing with the group – that disrespect drives me nuts!
Yet, they were a sweet group of women deeply committed to the program and…they are women! There is cattiness and drama almost every time I go down to Pueblo. But they rally, lift each other up and are doing a fabulous job collaborating in such a challenging environment.
What I notice the most in prison is the amount of noise firing off all day. Whether it’s the glitchy sound system we’re using, smashing doors, random alarms, vending machines blaring or the way officers yell at the women…it’s an assault to the nervous system. I do not know how they do it – as I get to go home and they do not.
As we left the men’s facility in Colorado Springs the same older man asked us about teaching Tae Bo as Chloe, Lilly and I smiled and said, “good night…”