We were thirteen sitting around the kitchen table in the bare apartment, #107. Some sported exotic tattoos, body piercings. Swirls of green and white adorned another’s fingernails. Faded tank tops stretched over shorts and skimpy skirts, hair bobbed or shoulder-length, feet, bare in sandals. Cool air from vents facilitated breathing this humid July evening. It was time for Thursday’s AA meeting, of sorts.

Sharing began, slowly at first. The proffered topic was “Legacy”– how break the cycle of insane addictions these women had inherited from damaged mothers and others, how recreate their lives for the sake of their children. A slight woman blurted, “I don’t think I can stop drinking. I’ve only got seven days. Been here such a short time. I’m still terrified of this place and its rules.” Across from her, a black mother and grandmother with wiry hair smoothed to the nape of her neck assured her to hold on. She had. She was done with her old life of drugs and alcohol. Momentum gathered. Others began speaking up.

A heavyset woman, facing back surgery and convalescence in a nursing home, feared no one would have time to pluck whiskers from her chin. This evoked chuckles from around the table. Then she added, “I’m trying to turn my life around for the three children I bore and gave up for adoption. I couldn’t raise them … Began taking care of my alcoholic mother when eleven. Gave her CPR as she died in my arms.” More stories of violence followed with desire to change, everything.

To my right, a young woman with mounds of blonde hair snoozed, her head in her arms. Another with a shoulder-length brunette pageboy listened, her eyes, glassy. Still another short woman meandered into the kitchen, squatted on a chair, listened.

Then an impassioned, “I want to gut him for beating up my daughter again. No matter what I say, she just won’t stay away from him!” She slumped in her chair and lowered her dark eyes and pulled the neck of her T-shit over her bloated face. A pause, then many stormed, “You can’t do that.” “You’ll only get into more trouble!” “You don’t want that!” “Hang with us!” Still more tears and laughter engaged the women. Their camaraderie deepened, their harsh lines softened, their smiles emerged. Perhaps a new creation was occurring among these women — the God of Genesis hovering over a new void.

And so it went until the hour ended with the Lord’s Prayer. And what a prayer it was as new energy pulsated through our joined hands. We were not alone and we knew it.

In the quiet of my study, I reflect upon these women, jailed for nonviolent crimes, then court-ordered to this transitional house on Schirmer Street in South St. Louis City — part of the Missouri Reentry Process, sponsored by the Missouri Department of Corrections. Will participation in AA, NA, in anger management, job/life skills, and computer classes effect the changes they desperately seek within 120 days? Will they remember Higher Power’s stroking during AA and NA meetings? Perhaps get caught by Higher Power?

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