The jail where I teach creative writing once a month is almost all concrete and steel. I check in on the first floor, trade my id for a clip-on card indicating I should be escorted and make my way up to the classroom on the fourth floor. At various steps, I wait at those heavy steel doors to be buzzed in, one right after the other, passing the desk where I tell another set of deputies who I am and who I’m with before making my way to the final set of doors where the class is held, to examine the subject of apology.
Last month, the subject was apologies. We started with three songs—from Brenda Lee, Elton John and John Lennon. “What’s the common thread?” I asked them. Several surprised me by how the songs brought out their emotions of regret. Children, partners, family members—they related to the singers’ words of apologies even though the songs were more than a decade old and they are largely in their 20s and early 30s. Later, gathered in groups, they turned the words of those three songs into one of their own—and then sang or rapped them. One performance was musical, another serious and passionate, and the third, extremely funny.
We wrapped up with one of William Carlos William’s poems, the one about the plums he apologized for taking from the ‘ice box’ but that were so cold and delicious, so how could he not? Apology with no regrets. The women wrote their own poems about apologizing for something that they weren’t really sorry for. One wrote of the rush from taking a drug she was now ready to say, ‘bye, bye’ to. Another prefaced her reading by saying she never really believed an apology was sincere, while all around her the women she shared space with spoke of their feelings of regret. About what they’d done in the past. The affect of their actions on others.
We ended by talking about the act of saying, “I’m sorry,” apologizing with intent of making things right. The 12 Steps of Recovery are posted on the wall. Make a moral inventory. Make a list of all persons harmed. Become willing to make amends to them all.
And not apologizing for everything, as we women tend to do, as if everything’s our fault.
Once the class was done, I walked into the night with the two volunteers who provide vital assistance during those two hours. We escaped the concrete and steel, free to do what we wanted to do and go where we wanted to go, I thought of those women I left behind, hoping the power of putting their thoughts to paper helps them along to that same freedom I enjoy at the end of each class. Free of whatever regrets holds them now and threatens to keep them coming back.