When our bus pulled into the lot of State Reformatory for Women, the first thing I noticed was the tall chain linked fence. It was a beautiful morning. The sky looked like a painting and the weather was close to perfect. I looked out towards the front of the bus and saw the guards waiting for us. I was anxious and had no idea what to expect but I knew I was going to learn something that day. The Harmony Project brought me to that place and I was thankful to be a member. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to sing with the choir for the women and staff at the facility.
Over 230 choir members filled up 5 buses. A Harmony staff member gave us instructions about our visit which included no cell phones and no close contact with the women in the prison. Small groups of us were placed in a fenced in area where one by one we entered through a metal detector. As we walked onto the grounds a gate closed behind us. I noticed hundreds of dandelions in the fields. The sight of them struck me for some reason. They just looked…different. I thought about how my mother in law tells me about the strength of dandelions and how there so much more to them than people care to see and know. Sometimes good can be found in just about anything.
We were then escorted into the large gymnasium. I listened to different conversations about the beautiful weather and how exciting this experience was going to be. After several minutes we were taken to the Chow Room for lunch. When we walked into the lunchroom a woman was painting a mural that said ‘Where I am does not define who I am.’
Time passed faster than I expected and before I was aware we were ready to perform. As we stood waiting for the cue to walk onto the stage, we watched hundreds of women come out of a building across the grounds. They quietly sat on the grass in the field full of dandelions.
We listened to the amazing performance of the women from Tapestry/Inside Out, (an in-house therapy program at the prison). One of the guitarists from Harmony sang Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.” We all cheered and loved it. One of the songs we sang was Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released.” The message was that even though we were only there for that day, we all are waiting to be released from something. I had trouble learning the words while practicing because I didn’t understand it. I saw many wipe tears from their eyes during the song and at that point they lyrics made sense to me. I too am waiting and someday shall be released from my own grief and guilt. The women embraced us with cheers, smiles and huge applause. How and why they were there that day was not the issue. They were so kind to us.
We got back in our groups for the bus ride home. As I sat on the bus I looked out the window and up at the sky. It resembled a blue marble with wispy swirls of white. I think we all were reflecting on the visit as our bus turned out of the lot. It was so quiet. I silently looked out the window again at a field. Behind me I heard a voice say “There are so many dandelions this year.”