Self-Description - Intelligent and Homemade
Her Inner Light - an attitude of gratitude for all that has happened, for all the narrow escapes
Her message to women everywhere - Sister friends, daughters, mothers, we all have a right to a life, our own life. We know very well how to take care of other people, but in the midst of all that, don’t forget that it’s about your life.
Political artist. Mother. Writer. Performer. Teacher. Director. Mentor. Visionary. Rhodessa Jones is a rad force of feminine power. For many decades she has been working with incarcerated women. Through storytelling and performance arts she has transformed lives of women from San Francisco to Johannesburg, South Africa.
Rhodessa first entered the prison system when she was asked to bring aerobics classes to incarcerated women. She saw right away that the women had no interest in aerobics exercises and that she had something much more to offer. Through sound and movement, Rhodessa began to share her own story while looking for ways to connect with these women. “I talked about my struggles, how I looked for love in all the wrong places, thus my own dance with dangerous men, sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. They were fascinated that I knew something about where they had been.” When they realized Rhodessa wasn’t there to “social work” them, their skepticism made way for curiosity.
“Why are you telling us your business?” They asked.
"Because I’m interested in building a bridge together out of this place,” she answered. Then she asked her own questions, “How many of us here bleed? How many of us here are mothers?”
Rhodessa’s candid fierceness in taking the common ground they all stood upon as women created a rapport.
"So you aren’t the police," they said to her.
“No, I’m an artist.” Rhodessa answered.
"What’s an artist?"
“So that was my challenge — what’s an artist? And what’s an artist in marginal communities?” Over the next few decades, Rhodessa would show that an artist is someone who changes lives.
What started out as aerobics classes grew into storytelling into a covenant that held women together. Rhodessa created The Medea Project: Theater for Incarcerated Women (http://themedeaproject.weebly.com), a theater production company with a mission to reduce recidivism among women offenders by addressing issues of guilt, depression and self-loathing through an arts-based approach. First women find the words to talk about their past, breaking their silence often for the first time in their lives. Then coming together they gather the courage to share stories and end the stigma tied to their harrowing past. Finally they craft their stories into performances on stage for the larger community. Rhodessa tells her women, “Everybody’s pain is important. Everybody’s pain is real. Everybody move in. Let’s take hold of this woman. Let’s lift her up above us until she can feel all our support, until she can breathe again. Nobody is to let her fall. This laying on of hands I call it the womb circle.” Over and over again Rhodessa has established womb circles in which women honor each other’s stories, lay hands upon one another, and rebuild their self image and then their lives.
Rhodessa herself became a mother at the age of sixteen. She was born into the cultural revolution of the sixties to a migrant worker's family. She grew up moving from place to place, always the outsider. She followed her passion for performance arts with a goal toward strengthening marginalized communities. “There’s always somebody that needs to hear your story, to know they’re not alone. Through theater you can share that."
Rhodessa continues to open dialogues and build bridges. Now she has women ask of themselves. How did I break my own heart? Given everything I’ve been through, what do I know now? Rhodessa says, “I want women to stop placing blame and to start taking responsibility. There are a lot of odds against us, but how do we play into that? How do we play into a role of going down a path of self-destruction?” When women take agency in their own lives, the healing can begin.