As human beings we all experience an estrangement from our essential self, a fall from grace, so to speak. In the Lioness Tale Prison Project, we explore this loss of innocence and early childhood wounding and how we create defenses against further wounding. The participants begin to understand how they have come to identify themselves with their defenses and consequently feel even more estranged from themselves and cut off from others and from a sense of their own unique place in the nature of things. The project is based on the book The Lioness Tale, about a lioness that is captured and grows up in captivity. The story of Lioness relates to the women’s stories, not only to their physical incarceration but more urgently to the emotional and spiritual imprisonment that obstructs access to their ‘discovery of the center within.’ The Lioness Tale Prison Project consists of three programs, each building on the other as women learn skills to support their own growth, support each other, and sustain the building of these skills, and the inner well-being and community culture they foster. Participants (“Lionesses”) in the initial program attend 48 hours of workshops in which they are accompanied through a reading of The Lioness Tale using the Enneagram, Gestalt Awareness, basic centering practices, writing and other forms of artistic expression. Extraordinary guest speakers come to share their insights and join the conversation. Through this process, participants build a capacity for self-observation, openness and the freedom inherent in seeing both themselves and the world through receptive eyes. Communication skills bloom in this environment. Once the initial program has been completed, participants have the option of learning how to facilitate this process for others (becoming “Panthers”). This is a much more intensive process that focuses on building their capacity to be present for their peers, including their communication, leadership and organizational skills. Graduates facilitate the initial program throughout the prison community. Panthers also participate in the third program, which consists of ongoing support as they continue accompanying their own groups throughout the prison community. In the programs, we are inquiring together, through the exploration of the deepest recesses of our hearts and minds, what conditions limit our freedom (both within and without) and how prisoners may be the instruments of freeing themselves, each other and the very institution in which they find themselves imprisoned, by attaining the freedom of their being. What allows us to walk together, is the human quest we share for discovering the fullness of freedom at the core of our own being and our desire to act as free agents in the shaping of our own destinies—even within the constraints of external circumstances that would thwart this dimension of our human nature at every turn.
These programs build connection between “us” and “them”, between “inside” and “outside.” They allow each of us, together, to become instruments of transformation.