The first time that I saw Janie, she sat as far into the corner as she could. She was pleasant and silent. If asked a question, she was able to respond in three words or less. It was impressive.
I was facilitating an expressive/creative writing class at the county jail. It was the smallest class that I’d ever had. There were only three women. Maybe that is why Janie was allowed to participate. She had an eight year sentence. The others had one year or less. Most of the time, it was six months or less.
Because there were only three students, I really got a chance to know each girl.
There was something about that quiet girl in the corner. She had my attention. Maybe it was my curiosity. I wanted to know her story. But, more than that, she reminded me of my own quiet son.
I remembered going to my son’s Catholic high school to a parent-teacher conference. There was one teacher in particular that really upset me. I went into the classroom and introduced myself. He had to think for a moment. Then he said, “Oh, I hardly know who he is. He sits in the back and never utters a sound. I almost forgot that I had him in class.”
At the time, I was very worried about my son. We knew something was wrong, but we didn’t know what it was. Hearing his own teacher say that he didn’t really know my son in such a flippant manner hurt. Perhaps, that experience taught me that I might be able to see this girl and see her as any mother would hope that her child would be seen.
During my first class, I read a chapter from Greg Boyle, SJ’s book “Tattoos on the Heart”. I always read his first chapter, ‘God I Guess’. This chapter questions how we see God. More specifically, it challenges our perception of how we think God sees us. Do we think he only sees our faults? Or do we think we see Him as a Father who loves us so much that he cannot take his eyes off of us? This book shifted my whole idea of God. After reading that chapter, I asked my students to think about what we’d read and to write about how they felt God saw them and bring it to class the next week.
The next week, the girls filed into class. I could tell that at least two of the three couldn’t wait to share what they had written. Janie quietly took up her usual spot in the corner.
“Janie, do you mind coming up here to sit by me? I’m having a little trouble hearing you in the corner.” I lied.
“I’ll speak up.” She said.
“I don’t bite.” I said, patting the spot next to me.
Reluctantly, she made her way next to me.
I asked for a volunteer to read their essay. The other two ladies were very excited. They took turns reading. It was great to see that Father Greg’s chapter on a loving Father, instead of the usual shaming and blaming God infused hope into their writing. Then it was Janie’s turn.
“It’s short.” she said.
“It doesn’t matter. It’s what you feel. That doesn’t have a word count. It is what it is.” I said.
“Blind.” She said.
It took me a minute. Then I realized, her essay, was one word.
“OK, so are you blind to God, or is he blind to you?” I asked.
She sat there for a moment and then said, “Both.”
“Thank you for your honesty. We have a place to start.” I said.
Do you believe in coincidences? I don’t.
I left the classroom grateful. “Use me, Lord. I am willing.” That was my silent prayer. I didn’t know what I needed to do other than to see this girl. I needed to see beyond her prison scrubs and eight year sentence. I needed to see past her smiling face that said that she was doing just fine.
I would need to look deeply into her eyes in search of Jesus. He would be there and I was privileged to be on this holy ground.
I am a daughter, sister, aunt, mother and probably most notoriously, ‘the Vet’s wife’.