What's it about?
A suspension of disbelief.
“To read between the lines was easier than to follow the text.”- Henry James
What I experienced?
It's strange visiting the girls again. It’s been a year and although this visit had a bit more optimism, unfortunately Judith’s 75 year sentence hasn’t changed. Judith is 66 years old now and has served around 35 years for her involvement in a crime back in ‘81. Last I remember she told me she was 31 and the new mother of an 11 month old baby, when she screwed up. Thing is, she was the driver of a getaway car in a robbery where two policemen and a security guard were killed. Even though she hasn’t told me out right, I’m pretty sure Judith’s 75 to life sentence is unique to her - everyone else seems to have an eventual date where they will be set free.
Last year the girls put on their own production of King Lear which almost ruined me as a human women. In the best way way possible. I definitely walked out of the gated walls feeling like a badass. People may not expect it of criminals, to have the level of discipline and talent to carry out a Shakespeare piece. But the more time I gave my brain to digest that information, my first time visiting them, the more it came to make sense. Prison is the epitome of discipline (forced, but discipline nonetheless) and in reality that skill with the combination of having no other responsibilities but following the rules of the guards gives for a great deal of time to really get into these complex character's heads.
This year it’s “The Tempest” and Judith has landed the role of Prospero. And, dude. I mean she is insanely good. Someone might even confuse her for a Shakespearean master. The pain that I know resides in Judith’s heart just seamlessly comes through. The story of “The Tempest” is one about justice and freedom (as well as 1a ,000 other things cause it’s freaking Shakespeare). So in it’s own ironic way Judith get’s 2 hours to experience the notion of being free even though she’s constantly surrounded by electric barbed wire. That restriction actually makes the pain more real and soon enough I’m pretending she’s as free as Prospero along with her. Not that he is that much freer. I mean the guy is stuck on an island with his daughter - Miranda - for the whole story. Judith and Prospero differ in one thing - gender. Prospero is a father, much like Judith is a mother, but Prospero had one child he loved with all his heart while Judith’s life restricts her to mothering the childless, as she cannot be with her own. I cannot even come to understand how difficult it must be to be confined to the same rules and limitations as Judith deals with in prison. However, I think what pains her the most is seeing life go by through the fenced windows.
The more time she spends here, the more I see her grow accustomed to the idea of dying within this cold place. And incredibly what breaks Judith’s heart the most isn’t that inevitable end, but the goodbyes she will have to say to people who have become her family. Like I mentioned before, I think Judith's sentence is the highest, which has naturally made her a sort of immortal leader of this place - sans the dictatorship context attached to the words ‘immortal leader’. All the girls look up to her and respect the voice Judith provides for them, she is the mother of all dragons (even though she has no clue what "Game of Thrones" is - that’s so fu*ked).
Nonetheless, this is my last time visiting Judith and of course I leave in tears. The slow kind that take forever and I try to play off as allergies. At this point all the girls that had been doing these three Shakespearean works with her have reached the end of their sentences and are finally going back to their families. Judith is staying behind. And my ‘allergies’ are coming up again as I write this. She’s only served 35 years so far and she and I never say it out loud, but we know that I will never see Judith without that dull grey sweat suit that demeans her to just another inmate.
I ask you this, because I’ve known Judith for 4 years now and she’s unfortunately being moved. She doesn’t have a present family anymore and because of the move it doesn’t even matter anymore. I told her that I tell so many people her story and they don’t she her as the criminal she’s told she is, but as an incredibly devoted mother that sacrificed her freedom and that baby in 1981. Her last visiting day is Feb. 19th, I don’t want Judy to think no one cares about her story, because to me she isn’t just another inmate - she is the ultimate example of strength and the need for women to prosper.
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