Can you imagine what it would feel like to go an entire year without being told you matter? Without knowing if others even know or care that you exist? This is the reality of many of my students at the Monroe Correctional Complex (MCC) Washington State Reformatory (WSR). The majority of my students feel so far removed from community that they begin to doubt their own humanity, their own worthiness of love, care, and decency. This creates significant anxiety and depression. By the end of the year, I notice a distinct weariness in my classes, as students go through the holidays…alone. I decided to create a boost, one that generated a more positive impact and ripple effect than I could have anticipated.
Two years ago I collected a few messages of love and care from friends and read them aloud during one of my WSR classes, which happened to be the last class of 2018. Students wept and commented that the messages affirmed their humanity and worth. A few months ago they asked if I would bring more messages. Of course, I replied, letting them know this time we were going to go bigger.
On December 29, the last class of 2019, I provided each WSR student with two pages of printed messages from WSR teachers and from my own friends and family. Students requested time at the start of class to read the messages, and again I noticed students weeping. I invited students to pause at any time during class to read the messages on their own. Half the class did so, pausing at their own leisure to lie down and read the messages, in some cases holding the papers on their hearts. We went around in a circle with each student sharing what that messages meant to them. The messages meant the world.
I plan to continue this tradition in 2020 and expand to include all of the five units at MCC. It is clear that community care provides crucial nourishment, and that our students have the possibility of a better day when they know they exist in the hearts of others, when they know they matter.