This weekend I was in L.A. RuPaul’s DragCon to sign my book, cover the convention and parties and meet some fierce queens. But last Wednesday I met some pretty fierce trans inmates and had a little coloring party in jail…
Here’s how that happened and what went down.
The publisher of my book Transform Your Life with Color By Number, Judith Regan, donated several hundred copies of my book to Rikers Island recently and she put me in touch with Cecilia Flaherty, the Diversion Coordinator and Associate Director, to do a little art therapy with transgender inmates awaiting trial at the Manhattan Detention Complex. How often do you get such an interesting opportunity? I was game.
Just getting into the place is more of an ordeal, than actually being in there. (Well, that’s easy for me to say because I knew I’d be getting out in a few hours and the other folks inside were not so lucky.) Cecilia had another guest besides myself, Mariya (an intern) who was there really just to observe the process and meet some of the detainees.
After I put all my possessions in a locker, besides my watch, glasses, driver’s license and what I was wearing, we signed in, were given badges, ink stamped, put through metal detector, scanned and cleared through two areas took an elevator, walked over an enclosed suspended bridge, took another elevator, some stairs, and we finally landed in something you might recognize from Orange is the New Black. A cell block with a common area housing transgender women.
It was loud and SUPER rowdy at first and a correctional officer was trying to address some administrative tasks. There were two areas, one down some steps and another up with a table and plastic chairs surrounded by tiny cells. Cecilia said hi to all and introduced us and met 4 or 5 new detainees that she didn’t know. After a bit of wrangling, we gathered a group of about 8-10 in a circle around two tables.
We had two copies of my book and two brand new sets of 48 Prismacolor pencils along with the deer coloring sheet I made 60 copies for everyone who wanted to participate. And believe me, not everyone did at first. Cecilia introduced me and I spoke a bit about my book, my work the history paint by number, etc.
And then we just sat and colored for an hour or so and chatted. Cecilia had some follow-up info about their cases, Mariya spoke with some of them about various things, as did I. It was all pretty normal, except for every single thing.
I thought I might speak to them about how I used art to transform MY life and using the Law of Attraction to bring positive things in your life but I realized talking with them and sharing is really a trust issue. Who are these white people? What do they know about me? I DO get that. If I wanted to really talk the talk and walk the walk, I’d have to show up more regularly to gain some respect and trust. And without any expectations.
I got a lot out of it personally – different things that I expected.
The experience really confirmed for me how we are the product of many factors in life and some just have more to deal with than others. And at the same time I saw how the info is out there for ALL OF US to have the life we want, but just knowing something doesn’t make it take root. You need positive role models, some tenacity and a good mental attitude.
It made me grateful for my life and took me out of myself to see ANY complaint I might have about ANYTHING is pretty minor….
And that being incarcerated is a real culture, one that is created out of the situation and survival. It really affirmed for me that we can’t go back or jump ahead to the future.
At RuPaul‘s keynote address this weekend at DragCon, he addressed these very issues and how we have to reset our minds and try to find ways to remove our own blindspots so we can really see ourselves and how we sabotage ourselves. It was an inspiring talk and I thought of last Wednesday and these women and the challenges they face.
A new painting I have on the boards now is based on a vintage paint by number of a barn with a road going off into the distance. The text superimposed will read:
START WHERE YOU ARE
That’s all any of us can do –ever.