The Return

By Branden A.

After spending eighteen years in prison, I felt like a baby bird taking his initial flight. I now had the entire universe to explore at my own free will. It was exhilarating, a feeling of being uncaged and free, but what was I coming home to?

Hired by the Indiana State Hospital within two days of release, I was making a living by working at a temp agency in the food service department. With my family and childhood friends in my corner, I felt hopeful about my future but the lights beyond the prison walls aren’t always bright.

I saw darkness. Humanity didn’t progress while I was gone, it declined.

Technology baffled me to the point of great confusion. I didn’t know how to email or tackle the basic things people take for granted.

Also, my hometown had become a war zone. My nieces and nephews had grown up alone – the cycle of incarceration – ever present in their lives. In my neighborhood, drugs were still there and the dealing game was strong. A lot of my childhood friends were still caught up in that life. I had to learn to distance myself from them. The lifestyle breeds jealousy, greed and criminal activity. It was still around me.

In addition to technology and the streets, I had a tough time adjusting to my work environment. I was lied to, passed over for opportunities of advancement and felt undervalued. I realized that everything I had learned in prison – studying culinary arts and receiving certificates – didn’t matter in the workforce because of office politics: who you know, and what you’re willing to do. Stress and anxiety weighed me down.

I quit my job with no safety net to harness my fall.

Two months had passed without employment and it tested my core but also revealed something – how I can endure – especially after almost two decades of incarceration. Still, I was completely broke, broken and embarrassed. I stayed in my house for two weeks, too embarrassed leave. I dove into my safe space, searching inside myself for answers.

I shared my disappointments with my mom. I began to set boundaries with friends and started to build up the confidence I had developed in prison. With a change of mindset, I was now ready to forge ahead, and move at my own pace, feeling out the culture like a blind man reading braille. I discovered a harsh truth: freedom isn’t free. To be free means sacrificing on a level I was not used to. I was used to feeling important and needed. It was my biggest adjustment.

This made me question who I was on the outside. It wasn’t easy.

While my prison neighbors (grown men with kids and wives who had once upon a time had ordinary lives) held monkey-style wars, I read. While the light in my cell stayed on for 24-hours and flickered a neon glow on my face, I learned. I continued to stick with it once I was released. I contacted my writing teacher to figure out how to continue to rise in my new environment. I wanted to build on the spark ignited while on the inside.

My sanctuary had become writing and I needed it now more than ever.

While in prison, I started writing on a serious level. I had a lifetime pass in the prison library where I spend an agonizing four years in solitary confinement and where there are only two choices: grow or give up. My choice was always to grow.

Within a month of being released from prison and through the work with the writing workshop, I was asked to do talks and readings in Indianapolis, including radio shows and writing contests, and people in my life were amazed with pride. How did the neighborhood knucklehead become a voice and community leader? How did a man that knows nothing about this day and age come home and change a community vibe by just being present? I had once been a street thug with no deep understanding of who I was, trapped in my warped sense of pride.

Was it the talk with my mentor, Mr. Sams, before he was released from prison? He showed me how one can make a difference by solely believing in himself as well as in others? Or, was it the writing teacher, Mrs. Deb, who had sparked a greater purpose of change because I could now could see the special talent that was talked about? This gave me a vessel to hone my voice. Or, did it take me getting kicked out of one prison and sent to another facility within less than six months of my release? I had been labeled a notorious gang leader. It could have been the loss of my father and big sister while gone that was a wake-up call to my soul. I missed too many events. It was time to see the light and be the light, to shine.

Maybe it was a combination of all the people who lifted me up.

My neighborhood is filled with pockets of meth, heroin and pills that was once dominated by crack rock and cocaine but it doesn’t mean I am a product of it. I’ve come too far for to go back. My worst ordeal – imprisonment – made me the best version of myself. I took time to reflect, learn and grow. Without the downfalls, I wouldn’t know which way was up. I’m showing the world how to live, love and smile through adversity. I was gone for a long time but now I have returned.

Branden A. is a thirty-six-year-old survivor of an eighteen-year-sentence. Newly released, he is taking the skills learned throughout his life and honed in the DOC to become a successful writer, which he perfected while in the creative writing workshop.

Reflections on Winter holidays

I was raised Christian—American Baptist specifically—and I love Christmas. The most potent memories are, not surprisingly for me, filled with singing. The Christmas Eve service at the First Baptist Church in Franklin, Indiana, was especially magical. There were carols, choirs, string instruments, organ, candlelight and the story of Jesus’ birth. Together, it made me weep with joy and hope for the world.

I still love Christmas music, and yeah, I probably start listening to it way too early. My favorite CD right now is “More Joyful Sounds” by North Central High School’s Counterpoints. My eyes fill up when I listen to those young people (many of whom I know) sing, and I know that the world is going to be okay because of the light they carry.

For the last 13 years, I’ve celebrated this darkest season of the year with the annual Winter Solstice Celebration, an earth-affirming, non-denominational event presented by Central Indiana Unitarian Universalists. This free, family-friendly evening has the things I love from my childhood celebrations—choir, crowd singing, strings (cello specifically), stories, candlelight—with the addition of tingsha (a small cymbal used in Tibetan Buddhist prayer), West African drums, raucous clapping and aisle dancing (voluntary, of course), stretches of meditative silence (always with babies chirping because this is for EVERYONE), a stunning altar in the center of the room created by local artists, and a large feast to conclude this festive night of sound and spirit.

I always—ALWAYS—come away feeling different … centered, grounded, and whole. This celebration helps me honor the darkness (that’s where seeds grow after all), celebrate the Light, and reclaim the communal joy that is too often missing in our lives.

However you name that Light, where ever you find that Light, and however you mark this season, I wish you joy and peace, and yes, singing!

Pam Blevins Hinkle
Director, Spirit & Place
(and also music coordinator for Winter Solstice Celebration, co-director of SongSquad, and co-founder, Indy Justice Choir)

Family-fun events for all ages in the 2018 Festival

The 2018 Spirit & Place Festival will be held from Nov. 2-11. The festival this year will explore the theme of “intersections.” Intersecting lines can be found anywhere from the cross and cloverleaf, to crossroads and connections. They represent collective creativity and deeper understanding, as well as points of division or conflict.

The festival will kick-off with an “intersections” themed opening night Nov. 2 from 6 to 9 p.m. There will be 32 unique events this year that will take place across 27 venues and feature a variety of presenters, speakers and performers. This year’s festival includes many fun-filled events perfect for bringing families together and inspiring sustained conversation.

Visit the website at www.spiritandplace.org for the full festival lineup, including these family-friendly events below:

EVENT INFO:

Friday, November 2, 6 – 9 p.m.
Opening Night: Intersections!
Presented by Spirit & Place and Harrison Center.
Harrison Center—1505. Delaware St. 

Kick off this year’s Spirit & Place Festival during an INTERSECTION themed night at the Harrison Center. The Harrison Center serves as a home for artists of all races, ages, social groups, neighborhoods, faiths and more to intersect with one another – and you! Bring the family out for a fun night of discovery to meet with artists. Explore how styles, mediums, colors and shapes collide and blend to create Indy’s vibrant arts community.
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Saturday, November 3, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Explore Art-omotive!
Presented by Ivy Tech Community College, Ivy Tech Automotive Garage, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, Social Sketch Indy and Marian University
Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum—4790 W. 16th St. 

Explore Art-omotive! will delve into the relationship between art, design and the history of automobiles. Participants will watch a virtual engine build competition, participate in a “car parade,” design their car of the future and explore the history of automotive design in this family friendly event.

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Sunday, November 4, 2—4 p.m.
Crossing: A Neighborhood Walkway
Presented by artist Lauren Ditchley, Meridian Kessler Neighborhood Association, A Taste of Philly Pretzels and College Avenue Branch Library
College Avenue Branch Library—Parking Lot—4180 N. College Ave.       

This event is a way to help a community gather and create a visual representation of a “desire path” between the pretzel shop and the library—a literal intersection between the buildings that is missing! Visioning sessions hosted at the library over the summer inspired the mural design and you get to help make it a reality. This pavement mural will not only help reclaim the street, but will encourage drivers to slow down while approaching the intersection.

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Monday, November 5, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.
The Score Awakens
Presented by Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and Indy Lightsaber Academy
Hilbert Circle Theatre—45 Monument Circle
Cost: $5 

The Score Awakens showcases the intersection between music and story by exploring the role John William’s score has in creating the iconic Star Wars universe. Indy Lightsaber Academy will demo how the music inspires epic battles, and everyone will get to learn some sci-fi swordplay.  

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Monday, November 5, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.
Hummus & Happiness
Presented by CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center, Muslim Alliance of Indiana, Jewish Community Relations Council and the Center for Interfaith Cooperation
Indiana Interchurch Center—1100 W. 42nd St.

Hummus & Happiness is an event that encourages our audience to consider how film and food can create spaces for the exploration of complex issues and diverse viewpoints. Guests are invited to a hummus-tasting competition, where you can sample (and then vote on) hummus recipes from around the world, prepared by local hummus-makers, who will share their narrative and the story of their recipe. The winner will be announced after the film screening of “Life and Hummus,” followed by a short panel discussion and audience Q&A.

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Saturday, November 10, 8:30 a.m. —2 p.m.
Spirited Chase
Presented by WFYI and its community partners
WFYI & Mystery Locations—1630 N. Meridian St.
Cost: $9

Spirited Chase is a unique event offering participants the opportunity to renew their spirit through discovering new people and places in our community. Throughout the day, participants will visit five mystery Indianapolis destinations, located at different physical intersections around the city. At each mystery destination, participants will engage in a brief presentation or conversation as they learn about the many ways people, places and programs intersect to create and support our community. 

Community-connection events included in 2018 Festival

The 2018 Spirit & Place Festival will be held from Nov. 2-11. The festival this year will explore the theme of “intersections.” Intersecting lines can be found anywhere from the cross and cloverleaf, to crossroads and connections. They represent collective creativity and deeper understanding, as well as points of division or conflict.

There will be 32 unique events this year that will take place across 27 venues and feature a variety of presenters, speakers and performers. This year’s festival allows attendees to create connections with their Central Indiana community by bringing people together. These events challenge everyone to ask important questions, such as— What critical crossroads are facing small and large communities in Central Indiana? What new and surprising intersections are needed to build vibrant communities? How might the arts, humanities and religion lift up or challenge these connections? These events that provide community-connections will begin with the Opening Night “intersections” themed event on Nov. 2 from 6-9 p.m.

Visit the website at www.spiritandplace.org for the full festival lineup, including these events on community-connection below:

EVENT INFO:

Friday, November 2, 6 – 9 p.m.
Opening Night: Intersections!
Presented by Spirit & Place and Harrison Center
Harrison Center—1505. Delaware St. 

Kick off this year’s Spirit & Place Festival during an INTERSECTION themed night at the Harrison Center. The Harrison Center serves as a home for artists of all races, ages, social groups, neighborhoods, faiths and more to intersect with one another – and you! Bring the family out for a fun night of discovery to meet with artists. Explore how styles, mediums, colors and shapes collide and blend to create Indy’s vibrant arts community.

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Sunday, November 4, 2—4 p.m.
Crossing: A Neighborhood Walkway
Presented by artist Lauren Ditchley, Meridian Kessler Neighborhood Association, A Taste of Philly Pretzels and College Avenue Branch Library
College Avenue Branch Library—Parking Lot—4180 N. College Ave. 

This event is a way to help a community gather and create a visual representation of a “desire path” between the pretzel shop and the library—a literal intersection between the buildings that is missing! Visioning sessions hosted at the library over the summer inspired the mural design and you get to help make it a reality. This pavement mural will not only help reclaim the street, but will encourage drivers to slow down while approaching the intersection.

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Sunday, November 4, 3—5 p.m.
The Intersection of Equity, Land and Power
Presented by Kheprw Institute, IUPUI Arts and Humanities Institute, Afrofuture Fridays and Mike Mullet
Kheprw Institute/Renaissance Center—3549 Boulevard Pl.

Join in on a community conversation where we will engage the collective wisdom of urban design experts, artists and attendees to envision equitable housing and community development strategies. In the first hour, experts and artists will generate conversations focused on alternative models of housing and equitable community development drawn from a variety of historical and current municipal experiments. In the second hour, we will break into smaller groups to discuss and build on what we have learned in order to envision new paths forward for community development.   

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Monday, November 5, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.
Hummus & Happiness
Presented by CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center, Muslim Alliance of Indiana, Jewish Community Relations Council,  and the Center for Interfaith Cooperation
Indiana Interchurch Center—1100 W. 42nd St.

Hummus & Happiness is an event that encourages our audience to consider how film and food can create spaces for the exploration of complex issues and diverse viewpoints. Guests are invited to a hummus-tasting competition, where you can sample (and then vote on) hummus recipes from around the world, prepared by local hummus-makers, who will share their narrative and the story of their recipe. The winner will be announced after the film screening of “Life and Hummus,” followed by a short panel discussion and audience Q&A.

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Tuesday, November 6, 7—9 p.m.
Crossroads of America: Living Up to Our State Motto
Presented by Dr. Richard Gunderman, Marian University Peace & Justice Studies Program and Marian University History and Social Science Department
Marian University—Allison Mansion—3200 Cold Spring Rd. 

Scrutinize the many ways in which Indiana represents a crossroad: historically, economically, logistically as well as philosophically, religiously and culturally. Dr. Gunderman will challenge participants to think about what it means to be the “Crossroads of America” and how that designation can confer many benefits on Hoosiers . . . if we’re willing to seize on the right opportunities.

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Wednesday, November 7, 6:30—8:30 p.m.
Bridging the Divide: Finding Common Ground
Presented by IUPUI Senior Academy, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Butler College of Education, St. Vincent Art Therapy Studio, Center for Interfaith Cooperation and North United Methodist Church
North United Methodist Church—3808 N. Meridian St. 

What barriers do you need to break down in your life? What stops you from reaching out to engage in conversations with someone who is different than you? Divisions are fed by lack of opportunities to intersect across lines of race, religion, ethnicity and political affiliations. This event examines barriers to connecting with others and will provide techniques for engaging in meaningful conversations. Small group art projects led by Joani Rothenberg will also provide an opportunity to discuss experiences, frustrations with past interactions and hopes for more civil intersections. 

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Wednesday, November 7, 3—5 p.m.
At the Intersection of Identity & Walkability
Presented by Health by Design, Marion County Health Department, Keystone Millersville Neighborhood Association, AccessABILITY and Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired
Marion County Public Health Department Community Building—4012 Meadows Drive 

“Walkability” has to do with what makes a community an inviting place to walk. Think: sidewalks, tree-lined streets and benches.Through facilitated dialogue and walking side-by-side with others, participants will explore how identity—being a parent with young kids, a person with a disability, or someone who works 3rd shift—intersects with ideas, preferences and needs around “walkability.”

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Friday, November 9, 6 – 8:30 p.m.
Afrofuturism in Action: A Conversation with Tobias Buckell
Presented by Maurice Broaddus and Kheprw Institute
Kheprw Institute/Renaissance Center—3549 Boulevard Place 

Black Panther. Parliament-Funkadelic. Octavia E. Butler. Janelle Monae. Afrofuturism is the reimagining of a future filled with arts, science and technology seen through a black lens. It’s a literary and creative genre that allows us to discuss matters of race, gender and social justice as well as model possibilities for the future.  Hear from Tobias Buckell, author of Crystal Rain, Arctic Rising, and Halo: The Cole Protocol, and join in a community conversation where we use art, science and faith to imagine a future together.

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Saturday, November 10, 3 – 6 p.m.
Convergence: Connecting our Shared Experience through Performance and Prose
Presented by Stacia Murphy, Kheprw Institute, INAZ Dezign, Oldsoul Entertainment, Bringing Down the Band, IUPUI Arts and Humanities Institute, and The Church Within
The Church Within—1125 Spruce St.

The Indianapolis artistic community is a diverse group of people from all walks of life and backgrounds. Featuring many local artists, attendees will reflect on the convergence of artistry, culture and tradition through poetic prose, rhythmic dance and visual storytelling. Spoken word, visual art, dance and music will intersect during this event to showcase stories of historically silenced communities and the power of unity. It will also include a hands-on learning portion and time to interact with the performers.

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Saturday, November 10, 8:30am—2 p.m.
Spirited Chase
Presented by WFYI and its community partners
WFYI & Mystery Locations—1630 N. Meridian St.
Cost: $9

Spirited Chase is a unique event offering participants the opportunity to renew their spirit through discovering new people and places in our community. Throughout the day, participants will visit five mystery Indianapolis destinations, located at different physical intersections around the city. At each mystery destination, participants will engage in a brief presentation or conversation as they learn about the many ways people, places and programs intersect to create and support our community. 

Powerful storytelling, films and interactive events part of 2018 Festival

The 2018 Spirit & Place Festival will be held from Nov. 2-11. The festival this year will explore the theme of “intersections.” Intersecting lines can be found anywhere from the cross and cloverleaf, to crossroads and connections. They represent collective creativity and deeper understanding, as well as points of division or conflict.

There will be 32 unique events this year that will take place across 27 venues and feature a variety of presenters, speakers and performers. The festival this year has events with powerful storytelling aspects. These events are interactive and allow attendees to share their story with the community.

Visit the website at www.spiritandplace.org for the full festival lineup, including these discussions below:

EVENT INFO:

Sunday, November 4, 1:30—3 p.m.
Two Truths & a Lie: The Intersection of Fact and Fiction
Presented by Indiana Historical Society; American Indian Center of Indiana, Inc.; and Kennedy King Memorial Center
Indiana History Center—450 W. Ohio St.

It is tempting to think history is nothing but names, dates, and deceased subjects. Not true! In reality, history is a dynamic subject constantly evolving as historians find new sources. But how do we discern what is true when sources sometimes deliberately lie to us? When do we slip from fact to fiction? Through the guise of a lighthearted game, this event will challenge participants to examine the intersection of fact and fiction through rounds of storytelling and source interpretation that the audience gets to vote on.

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Sunday, November 4, 4—5:30 p.m.
A Dance of Wisdom Tales and Tunes
Presented by Storytelling Arts of Indiana, Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra and St. Luke’s United Methodist Church Spiritual Center
St. Luke’s United Methodist Church—100 W. 86th St.
Cost: $10

A blend of metaphors and “wisdom tales,” like the tale of Naked Truth and Parable, will be discussed while incorporating music. These tales will encourage attendees to reflect on their own personal histories and faith as a way to clarify their thoughts and beliefs.

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Monday, November 5, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.
Hummus & Happiness
Indiana Interchurch Center—1100 W. 42nd St.
Presented by CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center, Muslim Alliance of Indiana, Jewish Community Relations Council and the Center for Interfaith Cooperation

Hummus & Happiness is an event that encourages our audience to consider how film and food can create spaces for the exploration of complex issues and diverse viewpoints. Guests are invited to a hummus-tasting competition, where you can sample (and then vote on) hummus recipes from around the world, prepared by local hummus-makers, who will share their narrative and the story of their recipe. The winner will be announced after the film screening of “Life and Hummus,” followed by a short panel discussion and audience Q&A.

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Wednesday, November 7, 6—8 p.m. (Purple Line)
Saturday, November 10, 9—11 a.m. (Blue Line)
Sunday, November 11, 1—3 p.m. (Red Line)
Presented by IndyGo, Marian University Writing Center, and IndyReads
Stories of Indianapolis Transit
Various Meet-Up Locations 

This interactive and on-the-move storytelling event features transit riders on the busses they use. Participants will meet at one of three different locations depending on the day. Each workshop focuses on a different rapid transit corridor that will be in operation by 2022. Attendees will then hop on a bus to hear from transit users and others before settling in for a storytelling workshop at the Julia M. Carson Transit Center. At the Transit Center, participants will craft their own community-focused tales. Bus fare is included with registration.

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Thursday, November 8, 6:30—8:30 p.m.
Jewish and . . .
Presented by Jewish Community Relations Council, Storytelling Arts of Indiana, IndyFringe and Indianapolis Public Library
Central Library—Clowes Auditorium—40 E. St. Clair St.

Jewish and . . . features several short talks by members of the Jewish community whose identities intersect with other groups. The sharing of personal narratives is a powerful way of presenting the vast, and often unrecognized, diversity within the Jewish community. Hear about the experiences of these community neighbors, ask questions and help build bridges of understanding.  

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Saturday, November 10, 3 – 6 p.m.
Convergence: Connecting our Shared Experience through Performance and Prose
Presented by Stacia Murphy, Kheprw Institute, INAZ Dezign, Oldsoul Entertainment, Bringing Down the Band, IUPUI Arts and Humanities Institute, and The Church Within
The Church Within—1125 Spruce St.

The Indianapolis artistic community is a diverse group of people from all walks of life and backgrounds. Featuring many local artists, attendees will reflect on the convergence of artistry, culture and tradition through poetic prose, rhythmic dance and visual storytelling. Spoken word, visual art, dance and music will intersect during this event to showcase stories of historically silenced communities and the power of unity. It will also include a hands-on learning portion and time to interact with the performers.