We are not privy to the stories behind people’s actions, so we should be patient with others and suspend judgement of them, recognizing the limits of our understanding. – Epictetus
I pitched to the editor of Topeka Magazine, a story about a prison greenhouse project. I’d written two other articles for him, so I felt confident in my proposal. He hopped on the idea, and three weeks later I was standing at the entrance of the Topeka Correction Facility–our local prison for women.
I have an amazing friend (Jennifer) who works there, so I assumed it’d be easy to navigate the system and get the story. It wasn’t until the guard chastised me for bringing in an iPad and cell phone that I realized I was outside my realm of experience.
The first visit was low-key; a pat-down of my character to ensure I wouldn’t go outside the bounds with a reveal-all expose’. What I wanted to say to the prison administrator (Kevin) was, “Listen. I’m not a real journalist. I have a day-job, and this is my side-gig until I finish my book and become a real writer. And I will spend the 150 bucks I’m making on your plant sale in May.”
He turned out to be engaging and excited about the article.
The second visit was life-changing. The four women I interviewed were kind, insightful, and amazingly full of life. Midway through the interview, Kevin pulled me out and informed me that two of the women would not be allowed to show up in print due to last minute information. We both agreed that we didn’t want to exclude them, so I continued with the interviews agreeing to leave out their names and quotes.
All four of the women contributed to the overall feel and tone of the story, and twice I hid tears by pretending to take vigorous notes in my scribbled up notebook.
By the time we finished, I wanted to hug each of these women–Norma even let me. What you see below is the story that Sunflower Publishing printed last week.
Many of you know that I can be over-the-top with emotion and this story triggered that. The skillful editor kept more of my words than I had expected, and I was grateful that the heart of the story remained. Talented photographer, Katie Moore, makes my subjects jump off the page.
I mined the original text and noted the removed paragraphs. In honor of the women who took their time to speak with me, I’m sharing some of the passages that were edited out, though still acceptable and within the prison’s rules. (Shout out to the girls if you’re reading this. I’ll see you in May!)
Where Flowers Grow in Concrete
The ladies projected a calm sense of peace and connection to nature as each shared their personal stories. There’s a defined sense of pride in what they produce both for the public and for their fellow inmates. Norma said, “Last year we drafted blueprints for the dorm landscaping.” She admitted it wasn’t easy to see what the result could be. “But each day, there were more flowers and plants filling the space that used to be dirt.”
Mary added, “In a place where everything is burgundy and blue uniforms, the pop of color on a cloudy day is all a person needs to feel some serenity.”
Norma, often the matron of the team, admitted that an individual could come inside and leave as the same person if they didn’t make an effort to evolve. This program gives the participants a chance to change and make something of themselves.
As the greenhouse tour and interviews were winding down, one of the women remarked at a clump of green and red on the ground under the seedling tables. “Look! There’s salvia blooming. Right there in the gravel!”
Someone asked, “How does it do that? We didn’t plant it there.”
A contemplative silence washed over the knitted group as the red petals bursting from the rocks became the center of attention. In a program that emphasizes growth, nurturing and development, it wasn’t surprising to see beauty, like hope, rising from the concrete.
Did u hear about the rose that grew from a crack
in the concrete
Proving nature’s law is wrong it learned 2 walk
without having feet.
Funny it seems but by keeping its dreams
it learned 2 breathe fresh air
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
when no one else ever cared!
If you want to see what else I’ve been writing, take a peek at the following:
Fun Fact: A picture of my daughter is on page 38!
As fun and rewarding as seeing my words in print can be, I’m missing the creativity of soulful writing and the joy of interacting with all of you.
It’s spring and, in nature, that signals the end of hibernation Who knows…maybe I’ll see you again soon. xo