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From Fear to Exhilaration: Finding Male Allies in Prison

Through the Alternatives to Violence Program (AVP), Uta Allers has worked with prisoners (her term is "insiders") for four years, most of that time at the Wyoming Correctional Facility next door to Attica Prison. In July, Uta invited four Rochester RCers-Mary Jeanette Ebenhack, LeAnna Hart Gipson, Mary Rees, and me-to a men's liberation workshop that she was leading with Ray Stiefel at the Correctional Facility. Altogether there were thirteen "insiders" and ten "outsiders" participating in the workshop (besides the RC folks, there were several AVP volunteers). The workshop began at 8:30 AM and ended twelve hours later. We were together all day (except for a brief gender group session), including eating together in the mess hall.

As the date of the workshop drew near, I moved from curiosity and excitement to fear and dread. First, I noted that the four-year-old in me feared physical harm (no doubt stemming from those "bad men" admonitions I'd heard in early childhood). Then my fear changed to "please don't let anyone (the prisoners) hang onto me." (Obviously a fear of having my boundaries trounced on and having to assert myself in saying "no" to a request.)

Uta and Ray presented theory on men's oppression, and we did several mini-sessions during the day. Insiders were asked, "What is it like to have so many allies at the workshop?" Outsiders were asked, "What is it like to be in prison?" Other mini-sessions focused on inherent qualities we wanted to reclaim and on appreciating the particular groups to which we each belong.

We broke into gender groups for forty minutes so that the men could focus on what keeps men from being close to other men and the women could focus on what keeps us from fully loving men. The men were very interested in what the women talked about. After I and two other women reported to the whole group, I heard one of the men express appreciation and respect. Another insider said this session was the best.

Not surprisingly, when we outsiders shared our insecurities and struggles with the entire group, trust and safety increased exponentially. This was the highlight for me. As warmth and closeness grew, feelings of fear and wariness vanished. By afternoon, I felt affection for each and every insider.

Uta and Ray's leadership was inspirational. They worked well together, presenting just the right amount of theory interspersed with mini sessions, games, and snacks. Trust and warmth existed even before the workshop began, which I'm sure is due to Uta's energy and commitment. It was wonderful to see how openly and easily the men expressed their affection and respect for her.

After sharing highlights and goodbyes, we outsiders debriefed at a local restaurant. I remember feeling foolish when I said it had been a wonderful day, but I knew it had been. Upon reflection, it was one of the best days of my life. I am discovering that any time I go beyond fear, exhilaration follows. Being open, honest, and trusting with people I've not connected with before feels like rich and rewarding new turf for me.

I never expected to leave the workshop having gained male allies, but I did. The day was a giant step toward examining my relationships with men. I left Wyoming Correctional Facility knowing I'd given and gained in equal proportions. I am looking forward to another workshop on "Men and Women's Relationships." I recommend a visit to prison to all RCers!

Karen DeLaney
Rochester, New York, USA
reprinted from Clear Vision,
the newsletter of the Rochester,
New York RC Community

Last modified: 2019-05-02 14:41:35+00