I believe in the inherent good in all people. That sunsets are best savored with someone you love. I believe in coffee and dark chocolate for breakfast, caramel in yogurt anytime, and stealing sips of someone else’s soda because I can’t seem to drink one on my own. I believe in the bleacher seats at minor league baseball games, the beauty of a golf course on a sunny Sunday morning, and that professional athletes are, in general, ridiculous crybabies who need to grow up and get a real job. I believe in hugs and kisses from mothers and fathers, love letters filled with sweet truths, and random acts of kindness that brighten a dreary day. I believe in a woman’s freedom to wear lipstick and miniskirts or sweats and a ponytail and feel beautiful either way. I believe in women’s choices. I believe in a woman’s right to choose. I believe that every person has the right to his or her own opinions, own god, but that no one has a right to kill others in that god’s name. I believe that terrorism should be eradicated—but more importantly that poverty and illiteracy should be. Those are the real wars we need to wage. But mostly I believe in a tall glass of homemade lemonade on a hot summer’s day, a blank sheet of paper waiting to meet my pen, and the inherent good in all people.
I wrote this on a sunny Saturday morning last spring sitting in a classroom behind the razor wire-topped fence that surrounds the Iowa Correctional Institute for Women. I was there by choice, writing with some of the most creative, passionate writers I know. Had you told me a year ago—just after I graduated from Drake University with a journalism degree—that I would lead a workshop for incarcerated women in my spare time, I might have looked at you incredulously. But I believe that those who have a gift should use it to help others, and I have a knack for helping people write. So I choose to travel through the security at ICIW each week to lead the workshop. Because the women I meet with have talent. They have voices. And they deserve the opportunity to write.
There are those who question why I go to the prison, who wonder why I would want to interact with “convicted criminals” (their words, not mine). I’m aware I may sound naïve or impossibly optimistic. Perhaps I am. But my beliefs are rooted in reality. I know the women are incarcerated because they did something wrong. They broke the law. But many of these women will be out—within a year, at least within the next ten. And when they travel outside the prison—or while they’re surviving inside—I believe they deserve to have hope, to have confidence in their own voices and their abilities as writers. So maybe one day they can share my belief in the inherent good in all people.
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