Alice, a long-term member of the Sacred Sisters Monastery of the Heart at the Ohio Reformatory for Women, (ORW) made her oblation as an oblate with the Benedictine Sisters of Immaculate Conception Monastery, Ferdinand, IN in a ceremony at ORW on Tuesday, May 2nd. Sr. Kathryn Huber, OSB, from Ferdinand served as her oblate mentor. As part of her formation, Sr. Kathryn sent Alice questions to answer based on assigned readings from Wisdom Distilled from the Daily by Joan Chittister. We are sharing some of Alice’s reflections for Monks in Our Midst.
(…on the rhythm of her life…)
Oh how I identify with the results of not filling an empty vessel. A couple of years ago, when the Kindware first started, I would work late every night and on weekends. It didn’t take long until my attitude became cranky and the level of work suffered. It turned into a vicious cycle. I worked more to increase production which exhausted me. When I’m exhausted I actually do less which made me think I needed to work more. That cycle resulted in becoming ill and spending 3 days at OSU hospital. When we go to the hospital, all our property is packed and gone thru by an officer. Depending upon the officer, they throw things away. Our bed assignment changes so when we return there is no guarantee we’ll be back in the same building let alone the same room. What I have learned to do is make really strong boundaries about work. When I leave at the end of the day, I try very hard not to go back in there. However, that has been sort of difficult this past week.
On Wednesday, I was spoken to by the warden and her administrative assistant. They had decided that they want me to take on another responsibility in addition to Kindware. There is an organization called “My Own Blanket” that supplies quilts to children who are adopted out or age out of foster care. This organization has sent fabric and all sorts of supplies for over 2 years and gotten nothing in return. There is an area here called the Stitching Post that was supposed to do them, but hasn’t, so the warden said to move all the Kindware workers to one side of the room and put 5 seamstresses on the other half and I’m supposed to teach them to quilt. Well, I knew instantly that was bigger than I can do alone so I asked for Jan–one of our bead makers–to be assigned to help. She actually did work on that project a few years ago so she knows exactly the expectations. So we spent Thursday, Friday, Saturday and part of Sunday sorting and inventorying fabric and getting things set up. We are ready for the machines and the workers. I usually don’t use “my time” for work stuff but on Wed. when I asked Mr. Caleson when did he want this up and running he said “yesterday.” So we got busy and we’ll start when they get the machines and sewing supplies.
The things I do to keep from breaking are firm boundaries about work time vs. my time. We have a daily schedule we follow – we prepare it a week in advance and turn it in. The daily planner is divided in ½ hour slots and I try to get my required work hours between 8-4:30. I begin each day with prayer and devotional readings, and that always refreshes me. Sometimes I work on puzzles and coloring books, and write letters or read. Sometimes I nap and sometimes I quilt and listen to music. Sometimes I watch TV although there isn’t much worth watching.
The basic time allotments of my day look like this:
-5am rise, shower, cup of coffee and bowl of oatmeal
-5:30-7:30 devotionals – 1. journaling prayers 2. scripture reading, Jesus Calling, Dear Jesus, Jesus Today, Richard Rohr’s Radical Grace, A Spirituality for the 21st Century, Rule of Benedict and Wisdom Distilled from the daily.
-Tuesday and Thursday: 6:30 put in load of laundry 7:00 dryer. 7:30 fold and put away clothes
-every other month – 7:15 Monday and Friday cleaning crew, 10:15 Saturday and Sunday cleaning crew, 7:55 work, 10:45 go to room for count, 10:45-11:30 watch Joan Chittister video on portable DVD player or read Wisdom Distilled or work on lesson 11:30 lunch, 12-3:45 work
-2 Wedsndays a month, 12:30-2:30 facilitate “Getting It Right” reentry program for reintegration women (30) with two outside facilitators 3:45-4:30 work on quilting project
-2nd and 4th Tuesday nights 5:00 Humility Group, 6:30 Monastery of the Heart
-2nd Wednesday of the month, 6pm navigators – outside volunteers for Embark program
-Every Thursday night 6pm Embark. 1st/3rd week “Celebrate Recovery,” 2nd/4th week “Getting it Right”
-Fridays 1-3pm quilt circle – making a quilt for a volunteer to be chosen by warden and presented at the volunteer appreciation dinner
-Saturday and Sunday My time. I write letters, watch some football (when in season) and just recharge by resting and doing not much
-Sat lunch – bowl of soup with Marcia. She loves to make soup and she shares with me.
-Sun 9 am coffee with Cheryl – we just talk about our week, share about what we’ve learned from recent studies and we make a point of making this a time of enrichment.
The emptying of things is an important activity for me, but I do it more often. I try to address a need as soon as I become aware, whether it’s sharing coffee, creamer and sugar or laundry soap or toothpaste. I also think that words of encouragement are as valuable as shampoo. I think one of my greatest gifts is the ability to stay positive in a very difficult environment, and my ability to take the principals of Benedictine spirituality and apply them to daily life inside a prison.
If I could have an ideal plan of life it would look a lot like it does now except I would be living on the other side of this fence. To me the definition of ideal is living out the perfect plan God has for my life so that can be accomplished regardless of location – but if I get to decide it would be in a monastic community, not surrounded by razor wire.
There isn’t much more that I can do to get the ideal from my present circumstances. I can’t wait to be free from incarceration to get on with the business of living, so I pray, and wait, and love others around me while I wait.
The things I’ll do to move closer to the ideal is work on my relationship with Christ by living the Rule in whatever community I find myself, I grow in likeness to God's nature and God's way – and isn’t that really the goal, to become Christlike in my daily walk?
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Monks in Our Midst: writings by monks from the 3rd to the 21st centuries.