I was lucky enough to work with women in prison and jail. I learned a lot about how hard it can be to maneuver a place for yourself in the world after making disastrous mistakes. Mistakes about a man’s character, mistakes in judgement, mistakes in making impulsive decisions, mistakes born from unfinished business or mistakes made in passion or anger. Until I met these women I had only known mistakes that had been important to  my own education.

Eve Ensler, the playwright most known for  ¨The Vagina Monologues” has taught writing as a volunteer, for over a decade at the Bedford Hills Maximum Correctional Facility. There is a powerful documentary about her writing group titled What I want My Words to Do to You. Ensler finds a group of actresses (Glen Close & Rosie Perez) to come to the prison and read the prisoner’s words. In the beginning of the documentary she gives the introduction to the play, describes the women as imprisoned for their dreadful, catastrophic mistakes and goes on to say that ” . . . we have frozen you for your mistakes and hated you for your mistakes.” I never before heard prison described like that but it rings true.

The documentary reveals the process of coming to terms with being responsible for murder; their guilt, sorrow, despair and for the most part, the journey to taking full responsibility. It is not a therapyidea group. It is a group of women honestly sharing their pain and coming to terms with living in prison for twenty or thirty years. They are also honest about their own denial even when in the midst of a courtroom.

I believe this documentary can be helpful to lessen your own experience with shame. Whatever mistakes you have made are not likely to include murder. Too many people are caught in a trap they create by not forgiving themselves. Coming to terms with our own mistakes is crucial to building character. You watch this unfold for others whose missteps far exceed your own on the screen.

It’s too easy to drown in shame. Shame should pinch you and remind you to do better next time, not to act as an anchor that keeps you stuck in the depths of despair.


About the Rhoda Mills Sommer



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