Rolling hills of the Oliver ranch

Rolling Hills of the Oliver Ranch

Last Friday was a beautiful day, with the temperature in the mid 80’s. I happened to be in the Washington County Courthouse and ran into a number of U/A Law Alumni and friends. Later in the day I headed to Sach Oliver’s ranch for Oliver & Bailey’s annual Bonanza, a fun event with live music and a great turnout of the local bar (no, not tavern, lawyers). The drive up was relaxing and lovely (aside from the pollen ), on (again) a terrific spring day. From the road, it was obvious how great a turnout there was for the Bonanza. Folks were everywhere, visiting and having a good time. The band, Full House, was kickin’ it and the whole vibe was chill.

Among the folks I ran into were Eddie Walker Jr., who will soon be the first Black President of the Arkansas Bar Association. His official title right now is President-Elect Designee. Eddie is a Workers’ Compensation claimant’s attorney from Ft. Smith, Arkansas. I met him years ago when I first began teaching that the law school. At that time he was teaching Workers’ Compensation at the law school as an adjunct professor, and I was fortunate enough to sit in on his classes. One word. Masterful. Later, I taught Comp and invited Eddie and Scott Zuerker to speak to the class about cases they had litigated on opposing sides. Scott now teaches the Comp class.

[If I might digress for a moment, this has been a terrific year of firsts (though at some level, that there are so many firsts is curious).  As you may have read from earlier posts, Paulette Brown was elected as the first woman of color President-Elect Nominee of the American Bar Association.]

Eddie was there with his law partner David Harp, who was giving him a good ribbing about the responsibility Eddie has agreed to take on as bar president, and his new status as a celeb. The three of us visited for quite a while and I asked Eddie to take a picture with me because (teasing) I know that soon he will be hard to get to.

Eddie Walker, Jr.Congressman Mike Ross, who’s running for Governor of Arkansas, was at the Bonanza too, and I snapped a picture of him with Eddie and David. Eddie David & Mike RossAfter a bit more schmoozing, it was time to leave because I wanted to attend a performance sponsored by the Northwest Arkansas Prison Story Project, and that meant getting on back down the road to Fayetteville.

The performance, Stories from the Inside Out” was  a staged reading by local actors based on the personal story exploration of 12 incarcerated women. The women are all non-violet offenders housed in the Northwest Arkansas Community Correctional Center. The Prison Story project works closely with St. Paul’s Episcopal Church’s Prison Ministry. Here, taken from the flyer, is more about the performance:

“Everyone has a story. When we are given an opportunity to listen to each other’s stories we are less likely to dehumanize on another with stereotypes. The goal of the NWA Prison Story Project is to create improved future stories–not only for the women who share their stories…bu for all of us…who listen and prepare ourselves for welcoming them back into our community when they are paroled.”

St. Paul’s is also working toward the goal of establishing a Magdelene House in Fayetteville. These are spaces in which women live for up to two years, unsupervised, as they transition back into the community. The Magdalene Communities are based upon living in a mutually supportive community, founded in love. You can learn more about them here.  It is a wonderful idea because typically women who finish serving their term or incarceration would have to return to the same challenges and living situations that often lead to their incarceration. Sarah Vanhooser Suiter has written a book featuring the stories of Magdalene house residents entitled, Magdalene House A Place of Mercy.

Story boards of the Prison Story Project Participants

Story board of the Prison Story Project Participants

The performance was a staged reading, by 5 local actresses. It wasn’t what I expected thought. The reading were structured together under different topics, which were projected overhead. I think I was expecting to come away with a wholistic view of each of the participants. For me, the readings were choppy and it was hard to get a sense of any one of the women. The other thing I had a hard time with was the complete darkness of the tone of the readings. Even when the topic was love, for example, the reading was, “He loved me even when he punched me in the eye.” It’s difficult for me to articulate my disappointment, but I think it was that the content focused so heavily on the terrible, violent and dysfunctional parts of the women’s lives. Perhaps that was the material they share, but from talking with friends who had attended previously, there was much more of a complete sense of the women. What made them laugh, who they were as Moms without so much “otherness” written into each segment. That, in my view makes it too easy for a middleclass (not very diverse) audience to separate themselves from these women and their struggles, which ironically was one of the purposes of the performance. I’m not sure if I’ll attend next year, as I think my interactions from going in to host with Pastor, Eucharist feels like a better way for me at least, to learn to be supportive.


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