At the conclusion of the creation of the project, we asked participants to reflect on what the process was like for them. Here are excerpts from their responses.
Describe the collaboration process that you and your partner developed.
Our collaboration process was open dialog that was very descriptive.
What was the hardest to convey to your collaborator?
The emotion behind my words.
What was particularly important to you to make sure was included?
Aging and the passage of time.
What did you learn from the process?
I learned that there are different ways to tell a story. I have a story to tell and Gb Kim is able to help me tell it.
What were you surprised by?
I’m surprised that when I thought my life was stagnated at a standstill, I was in reality still moving forward, evolving, and growing.
What does freedom mean to you?
Freedom means the right to make choices; choices that are healthy for me and ones whose ripple effect is healthy for those around me.
Describe the collaboration process that you and your partner developed. What was the hardest to convey to your collaborator? What was particularly important to you to make sure was included?
Avis Lee and I “met” initially over snailmail and then continued our talks online; we really did begin by just talking, initially about who we are and then a bit about this somewhat obviously unfathomable concept (personally never having been incarcerated, let alone for more than half of my life) of a life sentence. I wouldn’t say there was a difficulty in conveying anything (except perhaps in a literal sense of getting information to and from Avis through the maze of time that is the physical and institutional barrier of a prison)…there is difficulty in the sense that how can I represent/translate/inscribe/reinscribe another human being without actually being near her–not being able to hear her voice or see the mannerisms of her personality and humanity. I think the most important thing I wanted to impart on the work was a sense of her whimsy and the saturation in her visions of not only the future but her “here and now.”
What did you learn from this process? What were you surprised by?
From this process…I’ve personally come to really know that I can’t know; what I mean by this is, to some extent for people that have not experienced the “legal” system and then the prison complex, there is a realization that we do not understand what it feels like to be severed away from various definitions of life and living…but in a more serious sense there’s no form of empathy or sympathy that exists that could ever make me understand “life in prison” aside from voluntarily admitting myself to a prison for life. And out of this thought came my surprise with Avis–that somehow in spite of all this inhumanity, she embodies her body and her mind entirely, with outward peace.
Are there any excerpts from your correspondence together that you found particularly powerful that you’d be willing to share with us?
All I can tell you is what I see here on a daily basis…when I look out my window early in the morning I see spectacular sunrises–hot pink, lavender, gold, teal, orange, turquoise which is rudely interrupted by barbed-razor wire fencing. After I eat breakfast I go walking the yard for exercise and I sometimes see salmon-colored salamanders while looking at the dew on the blades of grass and seeing how many wildflowers I can identify. It rains a lot here and there is usually a single- or double-rainbow afterwards that sometimes arcs over the military base across the way. When the huge military trucks go by with the gunner atop I wave. In the hopes, dreams, talents, and sometimes even failures of the women who surround me … I see myself. I see the metamorphosis that takes place in each of us as we make peace with our past and begin to open our hearts to healing and forgiveness for others and ourselves. We look to our futures with hope and anticipation for lives better than we’ve ever had before. We come to realize that we made some mistakes in the past BUT we are not mistakes and although we are imprisoned we don’t have to allow our past mistakes to define the sum of our whole selves.
When I look in the faces around me, many of which I’ve watched for 37 years…I am awed by the beauty that the passing of time has gently carved into them; a crease here, a fold there, gray, silver and white hair, baby-blue rings encircling deep-brown-black pupils which continue to glimmer through their opaqueness.
I see poets, artists, musicians, crafts workers, mothers, daughters, sisters, nieces, aunts, grandmothers godmothers, wives, and neighbors…I see society. A society of women who live within a society of men, women, and children who are separated from them with barbed-wire fencing, time, and space. I see lives that were thrown away; lives that were stolen, lives that were traded, and lives that were sacrificed for others. That’s all I can think of right now GB
What does freedom mean to you?
I am an asian-american woman with the high mobility (education, communities, transition in and out of white spaces, transition in and out of “POC” spaces (in quotes because POC is not a sufficient term), etc.) that comes with honorary whiteness. This informs my sense of the world and informs the world the ways to evidence my humanity back to me. I think maybe…freedom is sometimes political, like some type of currency of privilege that mutates based on the type and manner of privilege(s). Freedom is sometimes about “normative” doing like the casualness of a conversation around “I like the grocery store down the block better than the one on the corner.” Freedom is sometimes emotional and is shaped or held by fear–that freedom might be to live free of fear. Freedom is sometimes an awesome chaos like light or the seeming anarchy of particle physics (though of course we could say these are “governed” by mathematics)… freedom is deeply about the ability to employ the mind and all that it contains someway and anyway into the physical world.
Avis Lee is a certified Braille translator, currently working as a Peer Assistant in the Therapeutic Community program. She is a member of Let’s Get Free: Women and Trans Prisoner Defense Committee, and the coauthor of the play Chin to the Sky. She also serves on Decarcerate PA’s Advisory Board. Avis was born in Altoona, PA, grew up in Pittsburgh, and has been serving a Death By Incarceration sentence for the last 38 years. She enjoys genealogy, knitting, crocheting, and gardening.
Gb Kim is an artist and interdisciplinary scholar, working with scientists in hospitals and institutions throughout the U.S. and internationally. While the primary pursuit of her scholarship has been art, science, medicine, and technology have always informed her practice. She is currently interested in science fiction particularly as it functions as a space of creative exchange between science politics and the imaginative act. She is invested in art as a proposition and agentive vehicle that draws our attention to the politics of our technology, examines the social effects of science, and both creates and destroys these imagined social barriers. She currently works at the organizations, iBiology and the Ligo Project. Learn more at http://www.gbkim.com/