Sometimes I forget that I have the privilege of sitting in some very unique circles. On Wednesday evenings, a small group of women from Summit Church in Orlando go to the 33rd Street Jail to lead a Christ-centered recovery group for women who are incarcerated and also battling addictions of various sorts. Whether there are fives women or 25 women, we move the furniture around to create a circle and, for an hour and a half, we all share what is really going on in our hearts and minds. For 90 minutes, we are not separated by bars or big doors or titles. We are just a bunch of women telling the truth. If you were walking by the glass walls of the jail classroom, the only visible difference between us would be our attire. The women in jail are in “blues”, and we are in “street clothes”. Otherwise, we are all different ages and ethnicities, we all have different home towns and levels of education. We have all held different jobs at any given moment in life. Some are mothers, some are widows, some are single, and some have had multiple abortions. They may have formal charges, or rap sheets, but we have all made tremendous mistakes in life and are in need of recovery and change.
While the hours spent in these circles are some of my favorite, they are also some of the hardest hours I have ever experienced. Since we are all being honest about our stories and the events that have occurred in our lives, some pretty horrific things are shared. I don’t question the integrity of the people who share, but rather the state of the world we live in which allows such things to happen.
Since confidentiality is a main requirement for the group, I won’t share any details, but I believe it is safe to say that the women who are pursuing recovery and healing in jail are the bravest women I have ever met. I hear story after story after story of trauma, abuse, betrayal, rape, violence, and some of the most unspeakable acts of human suffering anyone will ever experience. To me, the fact that these events could even be dreamed up is sheer madness.
Author H.G. Wells is accredited with saying, “Am I dreaming? Has the world gone mad, or have I?” I asked myself this very question when I logged on to read the paper this morning. I was struck by a local news story about the bust of two large cocaine and heroin rings in Central Florida. I recognized the names of one of the leaders who was arrested because of the work we do in the jail. Sadly, when I see news of another sex trafficking or prostitution sting, I recognize some of the names now, and I know their faces.
This must be madness, right? On no planet should the trafficking of human men and women be normalized or just another story. Those of us who work with those who traffic or have been trafficked can’t be completely mad. (We joke that we have to be a little crazy to do this work because sometimes it is just so incomprehensible.) But these stories – the ones we see and hear on the news, or the ones we see and experience in jail recovery groups and classes – are the sound of madness.
I stole that phrase from one of my favorite songs by the same title. One of my favorite bands, Shinedown, released the song “The Sound of Madness” in 2008 on an album by the same name. I have been hooked on this song ever since I first bought the album. The chorus lyrics are:
I created the sound of madness
Wrote the book on pain
Somehow I’m still here to explain
That the darkest hour never comes in the night
You can sleep with a gun
When you gonna wake up and fight?
This is a question I ask myself often. When I experience the total madness of the world around me, what do I choose to do? Do I live in fear (sleep with a gun), or do I choose to act, to wake up to reality, and to fight against injustice in some small way?
I like to think that our little group that meets on Wednesdays is actively fighting this madness. It may be a small drop in the bucket but, over time, these groups can make a big difference in the life of a person who participates. That is what this group did for me when I was first introduced to it.
The sound of madness is deafening, but it doesn’t have to drown out the reality that we can each make a difference. No can do everything, but everyone can do something. So wake up and fight.