Dimensions

By Albert H.

I sat up on many gloomy nights staring at the cell walls. And the small ray of hope ebbed itself through me in a small cell where you are able to only see the embers of dust present themselves as snowflakes dancing in the shadows with their angry, dirty faces. For many decades, I’ve adjusted to incarceration: the faint smell of the zoo and predators move themselves back and forth hoping that some soul would reach in, not to harm, but to feel the warmth of a kind heart. Existence for me became a 4×10 foot cell, in many cases, and as I reached out my arms the cell becomes smaller in size. Dimensions are an illusion. What they don’t compute is the toilet, bunks and sink. In some prisons, I can put a hand and shoulder against one wall and it’s not a far reach. Your existence is a cement dungeon, dry, stripped of all feelings. In these circumstances two men will get to know one another well and some will form a tight bond while others will want to kill each other before the first week is over. Cell size will depend on the relationship. I’ve seen so much violence and grief. For there is a camouflage of bloodshed and a reflection of a man’s eyes through the mirror, and I’m hoping to get a glimpse of some other soul, but really, we only see the screams and a sense of not being heard. I remember the fights behind the walls at another prison in California, and the smell of copper and the blood engraved blanket we wrapped with a man’s flesh and a body being carried out. We chose the life because we were born into this life.

Albert H. is an inmate currently living at Plainfield Correctional Facility. He is a participant of Indiana Prison Writers Workshop. Once released, he plans on continuing to write and spend time with family.

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On why I work with inmates and chose to submit their writings to the Spirit & Place Festival blog’s 2018 theme: “Intersection”

by Debra Des Vignes

They notice birds that sing prison songs in plantation fields to condemned men with hopeless dreams. In 2017, I founded Indiana Prison Writers Workshop, a creative writing program for those living in Indiana correctional facilities, where I lead a group of inmates through different writing prompts. The questions they ask: “How have our lives come to this and what will we find waiting for us on the other side?”

As I meet these men in their brown jumpsuits each Sunday, their lives intersecting with mine, I am struck by their poise, candor, and eagerness to express their vulnerabilities. It’s true, the sliver of light that appears through a window in an airless room, gives one an odd perspective of the world, and I no longer observe them through my narrowing eyes. We write about crime, the lives that stretch ahead of them, and the intersections we all face each day. At times, the walls around us feel heavy, but we persevere – unearthing deep emotional issues that were once too painful to let out. At times we jump back into our shells and silence settles among us like the weight of the sweltering sun on a muggy day, until we feel light again.

There’s a reason why so many inmates use storytelling as a coping mechanism, a tool to get through the day, the weeks, the months, the years. Being in prison strips one of their “self” where each day, from morning until bedtime, there is a fight to maintain one’s sanity. At times, Chris’ eyes go wide. “Oh, man, is this class for me?” He describes the writing program in this way: “We were immediately given permission to see ourselves as majestic creatures who are allowed to come and go as we please, fly free, and feel the wind beneath our wings. As caged birds we sing our little hearts out!” he proclaims in awe of the freedom he was given. “Now I’m writing a novel.”

These men are not numbers assigned by the Department of Corrections, but true artists. Writing builds confidence. It gives them hope at a time when hope is the one thing keeping them alive. It’s the perfect soundtrack to a new life, where fast-paced tempos once matched a hectic pace of a life, gives way to a calming melody of self-reflection. And where birds, once invisible in some trees, are now squawking. We’re all at an impasse.

In 1950, there were 265,000 prisoners in the U.S. Today, more than 2.3 million inmates sit behind bars in federal, state, and county prisons and jails around the country.

Indianapolis’ Inaugural Civic Saturday

by Karen Hurt

Saturday, April 28, Spirit & Place and partners hosted the first Civic Saturday outside of its founding city, Seattle. Hosted at the Glendale Library, several community members gathered together to learn, think and listen to one another about citizenship and its meaning. For more background on the structure of Civic Saturdays and what the event is, read this post here.

Spirit & Place’s program director Erin Kelley introduced the event, with Civic Scriptures and group singing to open the afternoon.

Kelley directly addressed the fact that many civic scriptures seem that they are not written for people outside of the white men who wrote them. However, she also encouraged us to separate the words themselves from the people who wrote them. The American experiment is still ongoing, and our system was designed for us to live in and feel tension between one another and our different ideas. Looking at the exact words that were written and thinking about them in the context of today was really enlightening. I really got a lot out of reading the exact words and excerpts provided without thinking about them in an academic setting or thinking about who wrote them.

The focus of this event was citizenship. Erin invited us to think about citizenship and different definitions of the word. We hear about it in the news as paperwork that connects people to the state where they live, which is generally a Western civilization concept.

I specifically was interested in the question Kelley posted about who gets to decide to be a good citizen. Does it have to do with documentation? Or participation? And does anything even matter beyond what the people around you perceive about your citizenship? We didn’t necessarily come to any specific conclusions, but it was enlightening to grapple with all of these questions.

There were also several moments where the group was encouraged to discuss what we had heard and how we understood or felt about it. In our small group circle, it seemed that a lot of our consensus was that the thing that matters most in citizenship is showing up for our neighbors and each other. While it was still clear that voting is one of the best things we as citizens can do to participate in civic life, it’s not the only thing. Participating in things like Civic Saturday discussions, helping neighbors or getting involved in things that can make the neighborhood better are also ways to be a good citizen. Often, those things are really more important in making our neighborhoods a better place and can be where more of a good citizenship discussion can come from.

Our group also felt that respecting others and really making time for the things we say our values are is paramount in being a good citizen. For example, if I say that I value taking care of my neighbors but don’t take the time to help the neighbor who can’t shovel the snow in front of her home, I’m not truly living the values of a good citizen.

While voting or running for office is very important to a functional democracy, Civic Saturday encouraged me to think about what else I’m doing to be a good citizen to those around me and to encourage others to be better citizens in every way possible as well.

The next Civic Saturday in Indianapolis is scheduled for July 28 at Central Library. Keep an eye on this blog and the Spirit & Place website, Facebook and Twitter for information about future Civic Saturdays or other ways to engage with Spirit & Place.

Mo*Con Intersections

by Maurice Broaddus

Coming up the weekend of May 4th, I will be hosting my twelfth Mo*Con. For the uninitiated, Mo*Con is a mini-writers conference that I host (“Maurice Convention”), bringing together speculative fiction writers from across the country for a weekend of conversations—sometimes hard conversations—all done over food. In a church. The conceit being that the church should be a safe place where people could question and discuss things.

Mo*Con exists in intersectionality. It began as a place to explore the intersection of faith and speculative fiction. The first Mo*Con featured horror writer Brian Keene giving his testimony of unbelief: how he has always struggled with the idea of God, why he has, and how it has played out in his fiction.

What I mean when I say intersectionality is that we are intersectional people, we exist in multiple dimentsions. I can’t separate me as a black man from the role faith plays in my life or how both impact my art. The sociological theory behind intersectionality recognizes that an individual’s identities overlap—age, race, sexuality, health, religion, etc.–and discrimination can follow. We can get caught up pursuing the interests of “part” of us while ignoring—or worse, at the expense of—another “part” of us. Which is why we’ve had Mo*Cons revolving around sexual identity and Christianity, mental health and the artist, atheism and art. Because to move forward, we have to realize we are all in this together, all parts of our identity.

This year Mo*Con will be held at the Switchboard, a community co-working space in Fountain Square. The event brings together partners such as Spirit & Place, the Kheprw Institute, and gROE Inc. Our guest of honor line up this year includes Lynne and Michael Thomas (editors of Uncanny Magazine), speculative fiction author/black feminist/social media icon Mikki Kendall, horror author John Urbancik, and agent Jen Udden. As a community, we’ll be discussing race, feminism, the business of art, fluid fiction, and protest through art. Which is how I see Mo*Con: at the intersection of faith and social justice; community and continued conversation.

Find more information about Mo*Con at this link.

A pre-Mo*Con event featuring Mikki Kendall and Chesya Burke will be held Thursday, May 3. Find more information and RSVP here.

The Intersection of Nursing and Spirit & Place

by Karen Lynch, Spirit & Place intern

Being an intern for the Spirit & Place Festival has been an adventure. I have learned about academia, nonprofits, my community, and myself. I first began working with Spirit & Place in the fall of 2016, helping to prepare for the upcoming Home festival; at the time I was an event management major. I was so excited to learn more about the industry of event planning and I was ecstatic to work with an organization who’s so focused on community. Throughout the next year and a half, I would learn the basics of the industry and have plenty of opportunities to network; but the greatest impact this internship has had on my life is that it taught me about my community, its assets and issues, and how to get involved.

I grew up in a town about 45 minutes west of Indianapolis, it is smaller and more rural than Indy and I grew up in a “bubble.” My parents are conservative, white Christians, and I love and respect them more than I can express, but I grew up not knowing the reality of what everyday life looks like to the average person living as a minority or living in poverty. As an intern at Spirit & Place I was able to meet a lot of people and groups whose sole purpose was to serve the underserved, and build platforms for them to improve their lives. Being exposed to these new ideas and people changed my opinion about my community and I realized a passion that I never knew existed; I want to help vulnerable people. There’s a lot of ways to do this, but for me the obvious choice was healthcare. So I took some difficult courses and spent some very late nights studying and applied not once, but twice to nursing school and was finally accepted.

Nursing is a wonderful and difficult profession, and I hope to make a difference in someone’s life in their most vulnerable moments. As a nurse I will take on many roles: caretaker, communicator, sympathizer, and most importantly, I will be an advocate for my patients when they can’t advocate for themselves. My internship at Spirit & Place has given me the foundation I need to succeed in many of these areas, and the rest I will learn along the way, in nursing school and in my career.

What Kind of Events Does the Festival Want?

By Erin Kelley

The three most frequent questions I hear this time of year are:

  • What is Spirit & Place?
  • What’s the deal with the theme?
  • What kind of events does the Spirit & Place Festival want?

Let me break it down!

Spirit & Place is YOU! We are nothing without this community’s passion for creating evocative events that enlighten, challenge, engage, and bring people together. Ultimately, Spirit & Place is a platform for you to experiment with new ideas, amplify your voice, and embark on radical collaborations. Of course, we believe using the arts, humanities, and religion is the best way to go about doing all this.

Each year we choose a different theme for the community to interpret and explore. There really is no “right” answer to what the theme means.

What we hope is that when you think about the 2018 theme, INTERSECTION, you think of places of meeting and of convergence. At the same time, we recognize that when ideas meet, it can sometimes get messy! Intersections are complex, but there is opportunity in the complexity. So, slow down and work together – ideally across sectors – to explore an intersection in a new and innovative way.

As for actual festival events? We want your best!

The Spirit & Place Festival provides you the opportunity to build up our community. For 10 days, Central Indiana residents are invited to share in a common experience built on exploration of a yearly theme. You have the power to help bring people together in dynamic ways all the while elevating the work you and other arts, humanities, religious, and/or community organizations do.

When submitting your event application . . .

DO:

  • Be inventive and collaborative. Get out of your silo and work with others to create something fresh.
  • Center the theme. Be clear on how your event is connected to the theme and how the audience will experience/reflect upon the theme. (2018 theme is INTERSECTION.)
  • Embrace the arts, humanities, & religion. Use one or more of these disciplines as a vehicle explore your idea.

DON’T:

  • Force what isn’t there. If you’re stretching to make a theme connection, don’t.
  • Ignore your audience. Invest the time in really talking about the needs, wants, and values of the audience you hope to attract.
  • Get lost in language. The application questions have word limits for a reason: To force succinct explanations. Be descriptive, but direct. Compelling, but concise.

Check out our partner resources for guidance as you plan your event and do not hesitate to contact us for assistance at festival@iupui.edu.

Remember, event applications are due Friday, April 20 at midnight!

LINKS:
Partner Resources: http://www.spiritandplace.org/Festival.aspx?access=Partners
Event application link: https://iu.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_8bHRWNEb4orKheZ