Young Girls from the Middle Ages

Beyond Bars

Today I had the pleasure of being the guest at a Girl Scout meeting. This meeting was not your typical Girl Scout event, nor was it a typical Girl Scout troop. The troop meets twice a month at the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women. The program is called Girls Beyond Bars and was created to allow incarcerated moms to spend some quality time with their daughters.

I received the invitation to be a guest a few months ago. I had been told by the director of the program that the girls had been reading some of the books in my Medieval Maidens series. She asked if I would come to speak to the girls about the books and to give a special lesson in medieval history. I very willingly agreed and was to soon find out that I would be the one benefitting most from the visit.

Early this morning, I packed up my baskets, loaded with craft supplies, quills and ink, dress-up hats and visual aids for out talk about life in a castle. I had emailed my packing list to the director a few weeks prior. The list had to be approved by prison officials. I was told to wear minimum jewelry and bring only my photo ID and bare essentials in terms of personal items. I made sure that the clothes I selected had very little metal, a button shirt and slip on leather shoes.

I arrived at the prison about forty-five minutes early. The front desk officials checked the list to see that I was on as an approved visitor, and then I proceeded through the security check and full body search. Then I was directed to a waiting area until my escort to the meeting location arrived.

While I was seated in the waiting area, I watched as family members came and went. Everyone was searched by a member of the K-9 unit and his well-trained dog. Small children squealed and giggled as the dog’s cold nose rubbed against their arms. “I wanna see Mommy,” I heard one boy whisper to the women who was holding him on her lap. Young and old waited until their names were called. Then they stood and waited for the door to the prison area to be unlocked. I thought about the happy greetings that might have been exchanged just a few feet from that visitor waiting area.

Finally my escort and members of the troop arrived. We greeted each other and then took our turn at the door waiting for the latch to open. As I walked through the fenced walkway and looked up at the looming wires, I began to have doubts about my decision to come. What kind of women would be waiting for us in the prison gymnasium?

When we reached the correct building, the girls were the leaders, knowing their moms were not far away. We signed in at the front door and were once again checked for security reasons. The girls then turned down a corridor and we adults followed. There were a few windows in the hallway and I heard some girls shout out, “there’s my mommy!” Mommy. That’s who these women were, mommy. Some little girls’ mommy and the Girl Scouts were about to give the gift of joy.

When the doors to the gym opened, moms and daughters hurried to each other. There were hugs and kisses and huge grins. Moms stroked their little girls’ hair and the girls looked lovingly at their mothers. It was as simple as that. No judgments, no fear, no abnormal behavior. What I witnessed I could have seen anywhere in this country–at church, at a school, at the mall–anywhere.

And then we began our activities. Moms helped their daughters with crafts, putting ribbons in the right place, finding the right color crayon. Daughters laughed and smiled. We sang and danced. Then we had something to eat and drink and all of a sudden, it was time to clean up.

Clean-up was followed by the really tough part-the goodbyes. Little girls of thirteen and fourteen were holding on until the very last minute. Hugs. And more hugs. There were a few tears, and then it was time to go. The girls back to grandmothers and other care givers, the women, back to prison.

But the meeting, that sense of normalcy. It gave me hope. Hope that these women will become better people, better citizens and better mothers when they left those fences and daunting wires. And hope that those beautiful girls would not return to that place in their adult lives. And I was thankful, thankful for the angels who work under the name of Girls Scouts of America.

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