...nothing here is promised, not one day... Lin-Manuel Miranda

Words I Never Thought I'd Say
Previous Entry :: Next Entry

Read/Post Comments (1)
Share on Facebook
"I have something in common with Martha Stewart."

I seriously, honest to whatever gods there are, know the following; she's some blond upper-class icon, she's allegedly a bitch, she has a tv show and a magazine or two about "gracious living" (as I call it stealing from Wendy Wasserstein's play "Uncommon Women and Others" where it was a standard of women's colleges before I went to one), she did something scandalous and she's a big fucking deal. I have never watched her on television, bought a magazine of hers or even LOOKED at one in a waiting room. I seriously detest "celebrity" crap and the only people seemingly interested in this being are reporters. But I watch and read the news, alas, and she passes for news in far too many places, even my major news show "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central. So I know things I don't WANT to know because it's unavoidable, especially when the mute button on the remote stopped working months ago.

DON'T tell me about her, okay? That's not what I'm on about here. But one of the dribs of information on the news in the last couple of days was that apparently she's been released from Alderson (yes, THAT I know, because I know the American prison system, studied it in grad school) wearing as I understand it a hand-crocheted poncho. And here's where our worlds collide.

Martha Stewart and I both learned how to crochet in prison.

There, that's out.

What? WHAT? Oh.

When I was in college (Connecticut College, 1970-1974) (rah), while I started out thinking I'd major in sociology, I dropped that idea like the proverbial hot, um, thing - potato, rock - when I realized early on in my freshman year, my first or second sociology class, that I thought that sociology was crap. Maybe it wasn't in other places, or other schools, or whatever, but I spent hours sitting listening to people being dumfounded by the obvious, being shocked by "social conditions" and wondering if they'd all been living in nicely lined suburban CAVES or something. Then came the "social problems" class where the topic was "Women as a social problem" and no, it was not meant ironically and I knew I had to get OUT. Switched to "government", which was what CC called "political science, and never looked back because I learned real stuff there that interested me and was blessed with the finest teacher I ever had. That helped but it wasn't the reason I stayed.

Mind you, the Attica Uprising happened while I was in college. It may have had an impact on me. (ya think? I went to grad school in criminal justice and wrote my thesis on prisoners' rights.)

At some point early on, I learned of a campus program that did something with the women's prison not far away, in Niantic, Connecticut. As I recall, after some break, I went in to inquire about it and was told that the two students who ran it had either stopped running it or graduated or something. Did I want to take it on? Um….um, sure, okay, what?

For two years, I ran Niantic Volunteers. We visited, when we could, weekly, at night. "When we could" because it took weeks every damn semester to reinvent the wheel with the bureaucracy. And there were occasional things like lock-downs.

I never, not for a day, thought we went in to "do good". What I had in mind, solely, was to give whoever might want it, a break in the tedium. At the time, even in those heavily political days, most women were in this institution for some crime related to drugs: sure, dealing and possession, but also prostitution to support habits, petty theft, ditto, most of that stuff. And there was the one woman, small, quiet, who knew who once said in a slightly dreamy voice "well, see, there was this roomful of antiques". I still remember.

We didn't know what to do, so we gave them a chance to talk to someone they didn't talk to all the time. "Social worker" visits were unlimited, so our coming in for a couple of hours didn't cut into real visits from family, say. Yeah we were white, lots of them weren't, but we didn't pretend to be other than what I hoped for; a diversion for desperately bored people.

It was what you see in lots of women's prisons - "rooms" rather than cells. The staff at the time carried keys, but went to some lengths, we learned, NOT to tell the keys rattle, but to tuck them in; it was politer not to remind the inmates of their power. No orange jumpsuits; as I recall everyday clothes. This was not a maximum security prison. And yeah, we talked about what they did. We tried to talk about whatever they might want to talk about. I was severely conscious of the divide between us, but I WAS at least, a Hartford girl, my family lived in the projects before I was born. I was conscious of race issues and class but I still felt that but for this or that, we could have switched places. I was way luckier. So yeah, we talked about what they did, what they wanted to do when they got out. Had some of them (and it was shocking back in the way early 70s for many) try to shock us talking about their girlfriends and were we lesbians, did we know any. (er, there were rumors?) But we didn't go there to teach or preach, just to hang out. And hang we did.

One of the things the women did - a LOT - was crochet. I don't recall knitting - the needles might have been considered too much like weapons - but they crocheted. A LOT. One woman, Elaine, whom I got to know better than some, was pregnant. She had something like nine months of clothes made for her baby. In all sizes.

I'm left-handed and my mom was a kick-ass knitter but we could not turn it around to teach me (she just sent me one of those very popular fluffy scarves that she knitted. She stopped doing it about 40 years ago, she said, and look) (I want more, in about 4 other colors). And while over the years I learned to embroider and do needlepoint, I never did learn to knit. But I learned to crochet, hanging out at Niantic, watching the women I was sitting with, reversing what they did. I "hired" one of them to make me - yes - a poncho, paying money into her account and bringing or buying the yarn. I wore that poncho, gold mostly and brown, with a leather hat with a brim, also hand made all year round, practically, at school. It was New London; hmm, not unlike Seattle, now that I think about it. Damp, gray. Ponchos are excellent for putting many things under - sweaters, sweatshirts, tee shirts, work shirts. And I did.

I crocheted until about 10 years ago; between the arthritis in my hands and the problems with my back and neck, it stopped being fun. Learned basketry, never did learn to knit. Still wished I could weave. But I will forever be grateful for the things I made and wore or gave away, all of which helped pass the time in endless meetings over the years, made me feel creative, saved me money. And I swear, there wasn't a time when I was crocheting something that I didn't remember how I learned and smiled at the oddness of "learning to crochet in the slammer".

Read/Post Comments (1)

Previous Entry :: Next Entry

Back to Top

Powered by JournalScape © 2001-2010 All rights reserved.
All content rights reserved by the author.