What are the odds of this?
These days, my prison mother's name, Martha, pops up everywhere I turn.
All about a name, the name of my birth mother whom I only knew in the Federal Women's Prison in Alderson, West Virginia, where I was born heroin-addicted, and where she served one of her many sentences. We lived together in prison for my first year, then never again met. Our mother-daughter bond severed when a federal marshal removed me from the prison and I became a ward of the court. The trauma of this separation took years for me to even acknowledge.
Everywhere I turn, there she is. First, I meet a memoirist, Martha Frankel, who, for my memoir in progress, provided a blurb with insights into my journey that even I'd missed in my own story.
Then, a census worker calls me to clarify my census form. Yes, yet another question about my muttilicious combo. The census worker's name? Martha.
Next, a few days later I call the phone company with a question. A Martha answers. I almost want to hang up on her. I don't need the reminder, for god's sake. I have all the reminder I need about my beloved prison mother, now deceased. Nine hundred pages of her prison file sit in my closet as one reminder of her story. My first year in prison also unfolds throughout these 900 pages.
Why do I need more reminders? I still treasure some of her prison crafts, a thread to her love for me, and mine for her. One, a yarn toy dog, I display in my home. The baby sweaters she knitted for me nestle in wrapping tissue in a suitcase with other mementos.
However, I like to focus on the present, with what's taking a lifetime to integrate about my prison birth. What else is life for but to weave our layers into a tapestry, a beautiful cloak of multicolored fabric, silk and burlap together?
Meanwhile, one Martha after another appear in my world.
CAN I GET A BREAK?
Last week I returned from a tour of my prison birthplace where I addressed the inmates, a journey that stunned the very balance out of me. Note to self: Learn how a messenger carries her passion to thousands, and at the same time does not absorb their wounds and energy.
I offer my story in prisons so that the inmates can envision a new dream, witness what's possible for themselves and for their children left behind. Even though my past wounds might re-open (or might not), it's worth the risk because at the same time I offer my present triumphs, also a reminder to me of how far I've traveled. There but for the grace of fortune, I might have served multiple life sentences myself for my history of lawbreaking.
My path isn't one I follow with complete ease. Not yet. While some speakers give a talk, I share corners of my soul. My work is not a verb, to talk.
I've discovered that my sole purpose with women in prisons is to garden, to plant a seed that stirs curiosity about what's possible for personal change in mind, spirit, and body. I stand in the shoes of "If I can do this, so can you."
It's no coincidence that I'm far from the wild spirit who soared and never landed. Okay, I'm still a little wild, and I still soar, but I now have help to land. I stand on the shoulders of many, many women who walk with me, who push me when I think I have no more to give, who, when I fill with doubt, allow me to question, and then offer insights. When I wonder about my purpose, when I fall, I am carried by many. When I'm re-traumatized or occasionally struggle with still, emotional delays, and what still seem to be a rewire of my brain, I'm led by many who take my hand and say, "Let's go." I hope you have this kind of mountain to lean against in your life, also.
The timing, this synchronicity of women holding me during the exact days I walk into prisons to embrace our sisters behind bars, occurred just as I prepared to enter my prison home again. Even with all this support, after the exhilaration and exhaustion of my days in the Alderson prison, I still wrestle to find my way in the world again.
I need relief more than reminders. No matter what's going on, self care helps me regain balance, and I keep a list handy and ready to use for personal R&R -- rebound and recovery. (Please feel free to add to my list over on my Mutts-Like-Me blog in the comments area.)
TO RUN AWAY, OR NOT
Is it running to wish that no more Marthas appear? Please, no more Marthas, at least until I metabolize my days "back home" in prison.
Not to run away or anything, but right now I don't really need more reminders about the woman who gave me prison as my first home. Out of this recent journey into my past, my head and my heart overflow with images and sensory memories about her.
How about this. Let me first complete at least one of the several essays I'm struggling to write about this prison tour. Writing will put more pieces together, and I also want so much to share the inside, the guts of my journey and prison tour with friends and readers.
Once I finish even one of these essays about my prison tours, then all the Martha's who want to show up in my life, have at it. Call me, write, friend me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, anything but stalk me ... bring it on.
But can you please wait until I finish these essays that just don't seem to flow? This writer doesn't need the distraction into all the mystery about synchronicity. I have enough mystery in my life right now, all about my fate and destiny, all about women and mothers in prisons, and their children.
Running is one of my past specialties, but after diving last week into the fire, immersing myself into my beloved first home for a few days, I can't say I'm a runner any more.
A friend from Facebook, Sharon Heath, a Jungian analyst and novelist, provided me this Henry Miller remark, and it's kept me on track from running. "Every time we run away from ourselves, we're thrown back with greater force." That's enough to scare anyone into facing herself, isn't it?
I'm facing it, baby, full force, and when I come out the other side, I hope I recognize myself because even as I write this, my cells are shifting from the whole experience last week.
WHAT'S WITH THE "NAME THANG?"
My beloved prison mother, however, never used her given name, Martha. She went by Margo, a name I've not ever encountered. Until recently.
A few weeks before I left to return to my prison home, I engaged in a conversation on Sharon's wall about Mary Oliver poetry. Sharon and I had never interacted before this other than to become Facebook friends. A flow of comments ensued with a few women in Sharon's thread and we all chatted about my bringing Mary Oliver poetry into the prisons. That Facebook exchange, by the way, altered the tenor of my prison work.
A woman named Margo showed up in this dialogue. After a few days, this Margo and I friended one another.
Quite honestly, the name connection troubled me some at first, yet I thought, "Why bother to tell a complete stranger that her name haunts me?" I've never met this woman, and after all, it's only a name. I hesitated, and then a week or so ago, I casually mentioned the fact. At the time, we left it with a simple acknowledgment of this synchronicity.
Over this brief period since we've met, through emails I've learned another strange twist. This Margo has her own deep story about the fierce and tender power of separation between mother and child. She was estranged from her two young children for a period in her life, and she's since been in the process of family healing and reconciliation.
Our stories, while not alike by fact, mirror one another with themes of abandonment, sorrow, guilt, freedom, reconciliation, redemption and that which is not reconcilable. We share more, too. She's a mutt of the highest order, a racial category I proudly claim about my multiracial mishmash.
There's more. From the few photos I've seen, this woman has an uncanny resemblance -- minor, but it's there -- to my prison mother, Margo. Yikes. Talk about unexpected turns in life. I love surprise, but for this one, I've had to brace myself.
What are the odds of my encountering multiple Martha's, and then a Margo whose story reflects a kind of reversal of mine?
This synchronicity occurs during the height of my dive into working with women in prisons. The "name thang" slants my world even more during these days when I'm vulnerable beyond belief about my trip home to where my story begins with Margo, the mother who gave me more than prison as my birthplace. She gave me my first stable loving home. So what if it's a prison?
In all of this, I'm writing my memoir. Don't you think I have enough name reminders in the face of everything?
Synchronicity like this, I'd say the odds are greater for lightening to strike a person. Exactly what happened to me last week during my return to my tender prison home. I'm still sifting through bursts of awe, still struck by flashes of "Whose life is this, anyway?"
[What the hell? In-the-moment synchronicity occurred within minutes after this posted. See my comment below. Okay Universe, I get it. You've made your point. Which is... well, I don't know exactly.]
What do you think? I invite you to post your comment below, on Facebook, or email me.
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