Since the beginning of human society people have shared stories in their quest to connect. Connecting is the bedrock for flourishing. To be able to express one’s deepest self and to be heard and seen through sharing one’s personhood is so deeply important for all human beings. As a volunteer for a prison outreach service in Rochester New York, I have created and delivered an innovative approach to supporting criminalized women who have been traumatized by their life situations and who are or have been involved in the criminal justice system.
Participant S ‘The Gutter’ – “When I take this picture I feel a sense of hopelessness, I remember when my entire life was in the gutter during my addiction and I remember the despair and the picture I took of the gutter signifies waste… me wasting on the streets”.
The project is an arts-based trauma informed approach to teaching small groups how to create contemplative photographs and write narratives to accompany those images in order to express their experience. In turn these ‘photo stories’, these heroine’s (or hero’s) journeys can be used to facilitate community engagement via exhibitions that confront the stigma, marginalization and the dehumanizing experience of being caught up in destructive lifestyles. The women who have participated so far have experienced their creative essence and the transformative possibilities of expressing their voice!
“Out of Place” – Participant L “I see this picture and think of resilience and beauty. Something out of place. Something that is confined though it obviously shouldn’t be. I see growth, despite conditions which aren’t conducive to such. I see struggle and perseverance. Alienation, determination and misunderstanding. Something has gone awry.”
After two successful workshop series I now want to write a book where these women’s voices and photos are heard and seen and I want to document my method so I can launch a bigger project to take this work back to Australia as well as continue it here in Rochester. I would like to extend this work to men’s groups as well as for young people caught up in destructive life cycles.
I will use the funds to develop the project ‘brand’, workshop manual and training materials for professionals working in the field, create a digital platform and offer online courses and one-to-one coaching, hire web designer, up-skill in business development, create a marketing/communication plan, establish partnerships, rent a space, acquire photographic equipment as well as write a book based on what I have developed so far. I have an expression of interest from a publishing company that has invited me to submit a book proposal. I am working on my own and do not have the resources of a big organization to find grants from other places. This funding will allow me to develop the work I know will help women, men and young people who are questing to makes changes in their life and who may have never known what it means to flourish in life. This work is powerful and empowering.
Hallway “Carbon Copy” – Participant L “Indistinguishable institution. Indistinguishable junkie. Unremarkable, depressing, drab, worn down and over used. Lost in a maze of conformity. A sea of numbers, a sea of faces. They are the all the same. Cookie cutter expectations. Neglect under the guise of red tape and funding cuts. Acceptable losses.”
The Quest 2 Flourish
I believe this is my life’s work. I am 13 years a recovering addict who experienced some years homeless and engaging in crime to support my drug habit in Australia. I experienced the violence, trauma and mental health issues faced by people in recovery and reentry. Although I did not go to jail I certainly came close and avoided it through a drug diversion program and rehabilitation. Most importantly I survived and was blessed to be given the chance to create a new life which took me to the United States where I have been teaching college students about these issues and immersing myself in the community of Rochester. My recovery and this work is my quest to flourish. I have a deep drive to use my skills and experience to work with and support groups of people who are typically misunderstood by society.
The idea for The Quest to Flourish came to me directly from meditative inspiration and my own creative writing. All types of people from academics to human service workers to people wanting to experience this process themselves want to hear the story of this project and to see it come to life in a sustainable way. I have shared about the work in the community to audiences that have included academics, lawyers, social workers, community members and even members of the Queensland Parole Board. I believe this work has the potential to support real change not just for participants but in how we can act as a community to transform the current paradigm of ‘punishment’ and imagine new possibilities for restoration and healing. This work is radical.
“Angel in the window” – Participant R “Through tragedy comes my higher power. My angel in heaven lets me know all is ok.”
I am an edge-walker, The Quest to Flourish lies at the intersections of criminology, community engagement, radical pedagogy, creative arts and social justice advocacy. It doesn’t fit neatly into any one category… I need help to create a container to nurture this work so it can flourish: this is my quest. So I am putting it out there to see how much the ‘universe’ wants to support me to do this and I promise – you will be co-creating with me something innovative and healing and based in love. Once I have funding I will establish a blog and will document the progress of the project and all who have donated will receive updates and information about upcoming exhibitions and workshops. I want to create a truly collaborative project, something we can all create. Please help me to take The Quest to Flourish to the next level by donating if you can and/or sharing this gofundme page with your networks. I am grateful and send you love.
Thank you, Ingrid…