Yesterday I met some people I will never forget.
Some of you know about Voice of Witness, the book series spearheaded by Dave Eggers, which confronts contemporary human rights crises through oral history. There are currently four books in the series: one about people who were wrongfully convicted and exonerated from prison, one about those displaced during and after Hurricane Katrina, one about undocumented workers in the U.S., and one about Sudanese refugees. All of which are full of extremely powerful narratives from those most directly affected.
A few months ago, my friend Mimi (who is Executive Director of Voice of Witness) contacted me and asked if I'd be interested in helping work on their fifth book, which will hopefully come out next year, focusing on the abuse and neglect that many women suffer when they are incarcerated. Of course, I agreed.
Yesterday I got up at 5 am and drove to Montgomery, Alabama to meet with two women at the AIM (Aid for Inmate Mothers) center downtown. I prepared my (incredibly futuristic) audio recorder and sat down with the first woman I was to interview. To say that she silenced me with her strength, resilience, and grace would be a drastic understatement.
The same thing happened with the next woman I interviewed. And then I drove to Birmingham, and was once again stunned by the story that came forth from this woman. All three of them had spirits & bodies that had been crushed, and all three of them were humble, gracious, and so unbelievably brave.
After I left the last woman's hot, humid living room in Birmingham, where we sat together swatting flies and in the loud hum of her fan, I drove to a Cracker Barrel and had dinner by myself in rural Alabama (sweet tea, fried okra, macaroni & cheese, and red skin potatoes). How's that for country? I figured I could use the time to sit alone and think about my new heroes.
Man, are most of us so, so lucky.