Saturday, October 3, 2009

What I Saw at the Stoplight

October 2nd, 2009
Rebekah Spivey

It is the end of a seemingly two week long week. I had worked a little late and then after running a mundane errand was headed south on College Avenue with nothing more on my mind than the salad I was having for dinner and the Netflix movie, Longford, I planned to watch, which as it turns out was an ironic choice.

It is 6:30 on a Friday night and I am in the middle lane headed south, second in line at the stop light where 7th Street crosses College. As I’m waiting for the light to change I look to my left and see a woman who appears to be in her late thirties. She is looking up and across the street at the Justice Building. She touches the left side of her chest where her heart is housed, then she cups her hand and extends her arm up to whoever is looking out a window and mouths the word love. She is trying to smile, but it is a pained smile, the kind that hides tears. She keeps making that gesture over and over, and then mouths I can’t hear you, and expands her arms as if wanting to embrace the person behind the window. I look up to try to see what the woman is seeing, but the windows with their glare stare back blankly at me. The light changes and as I drive on, I wonder if the person in the window is someone from our circle or is it a male, her lover or husband whom she misses and is willing to stand on a street downtown for just a glimpse of, is willing to profess her love on a downtown street, totally oblivious to her surroundings and those of us who noticed her.

I continue to think of her as I go about my evening, making my dinner, doing my laundry, and thinking of the people I love. The people I have unrestricted access to. People I can be alone with, touch and tell them I love them in private, sometimes intimate settings.

After dinner I watch Longford which is the story of Lord Francis Longford who spent fifty years of his life as a prison visitor in England and was a controversial advocate for prisoner’s rights. The part of his life the movie deals with is the period when he visited Myra Hindley, who along with Ian Brady was convicted of the mid-nineteen sixties Moor Murders. The pair killed and sexually assaulted five children and was universally hated in the United Kingdom. Although Longford’s advocacy on Myra Hindley’s behalf caused him public and personal pain, he stayed true to his mission of prisoner’s rights and fair treatment of them as human beings.

All of this brought me back to the woman on the sidewalk looking up to the third or fourth floor of a hard-lined stone building trying to send a message of love, which, in turn, brought me back to our mission as Women Writing For (a) Change facilitating circles in the MCJ for female prisoners. Will helping these women find their voices make them somehow stronger so that they will understand themselves and their choices better and perhaps, pull themselves out of the vortex that sucks them back to the jail time after time? The answer to that question may not be knowable, but if we keep going back month after month without any expectations as to outcome it’s possible that the Change in Women Writing For (a) Change might be happening in all of us.


  1. I used to walk by the jail on my way home from WWFaC (previous home) and I would see these folks. They were dedicated, returning each week to be there for their friends/family/etc. It is very touching, and you've described it so well.

  2. Ah Yes Rebekah...that image, seen again and again at 7th and College or in the alley behind the jail, reminds me that in spite of ALL extenuating circumstances...the urge to connect, to love, to reach out is universal. Beth