Blue Lines, Steel, and the Hour of Myth

Women in prison transcend violence, tedium, and the past

Pumping her arms faster now, Gomez bends her knees. Her body sinks low. The chorus runs out to the floor to catch her. Holding her beneath her shoulders and her knees, four women bear her away.

Theseus escapes with Ariadne in a boat, then abandons her on an island. She wakes up alone on the shore. Gloria Baez, as Ariadne, lies down in the center of the floor, eyes closed, legs curled, one hand tucked beneath her cheek, the other stretched above her head. To the sweet sound of an Andean flute, Carr, playing Ariadne's mother Pasiphaë, follows Baez and lies down behind her in the same position. In unison, the pair pushes up as though awakening from a deep sleep. Mirror images of each other, the two women spin in slow circles on the floor.

Jonathan Postal
From the top: Yaneth Gomez takes wing; Gloria Baez 
reflects on her life; prison poet Evelyn Chapman; 
Maggie Carr with her mentor, Artspring founder Leslie 
Jonathan Postal
From the top: Yaneth Gomez takes wing; Gloria Baez reflects on her life; prison poet Evelyn Chapman; Maggie Carr with her mentor, Artspring founder Leslie Neal

In prison Baez faced her greatest fear: solitude. A beautiful woman, she realized that she "jumped from man to man" because she was afraid she couldn't make it on her own. Terror gripped her when she left her mother in Puerto Rico to go to Miami. "I wanted her to not let me go," she remembers. Despite the beatings and the sexual abuse her mother did not prevent, Baez insists, "She wasn't a bad mother. She was abused too, in a way."

The women break the mirror and dance away from each other, each inventing her own steps. Then Baez returns to Carr, who takes the younger woman in her arms. Baez sinks to her knees, but Carr lifts her up and hugs her, face to face.

Carr is a mother figure to many of the inmates in her class as well as to her other "prison daughters" on the compound. "They have expectations," says Carr. "They think I have all the answers."

After a decade of hearing women rationalize their crimes, throwing the blame for what they've done on everyone but themselves, Carr has decided she needs to accept responsibility for her part in taking a life. "I always told myself that I just did the paper stuff," acknowledges the former bookkeeper, who helped swindle a British businessman out of a million dollars and set him up for murder. "But now I realize that whoever does that is just as responsible as the person who pulls the trigger."

As a violin crescendos, Carr and Baez circle each other. They spin across the room searching for someone they don't see. They reach toward each other, but their hands don't touch. Finally, as the music slows, they come to rest in each other's arms.

The god Dionysus finds Ariadne, falls in love with her, and gives her a crown of stars. This is the moment Luz Reyes has both yearned for and dreaded. She steps out of the chorus and marches across the floor, an ornately beaded ceinture around her waist jingling with every step. She times her movements precisely to the ominous rhythm of an Egyptian drum solo. No longer a frightened exotic dancer nor an anonymous member of the chorus, she is now the god Dionysus who has come with gifts for women.

Standing directly in front of Reyes, Baez mimics her every move until the figure eights of Reyes's hips become too complicated. The glamorous, gold-spangled belly-dance belt is doing prop duty as the crown of stars that Dionysus gives Ariadne. In the Greek myth, Dionysus crowns Ariadne alone. For this prison version, Reyes bestows the gift of creativity upon every woman in the Inside Out program.

First Reyes unties the belt and drapes it around Baez's hips, staying close to the young heroine's side to model moves for her in case she gets stumped. Then one by one, Reyes brings each dancer forward and drapes her in the belt. Carr shimmies on tiptoe. Chapman frames her face with her arms as she swivels her hips. Gomez pretends to be shy, burrowing into the tile floor as Reyes drags her forward and gagging while she ties on the belt, before spinning ecstatically. Cantín can't wait for Reyes to finish tying the belt before she begins pumping her legs. She wiggles so furiously that the belt falls to the floor around her ankles. Rivera is the last to step forward, switching her hips and smiling shyly as the inmates in the audience cheer her on.

Reyes giggles when she takes back the belt and fumbles trying to replace it on her own hips, breaking her concentration for the first time. When she succeeds, she is the god again. For the finale, she leads the group through a series of turns that grow tighter as the drum beats faster.

While the rest of the group basks in the accolades of their fellow inmates, Carr searches the expression of her mentor Leslie Neal. She stays behind as the rest of the inmates file out, reliving the show's highlights with Neal.

Suddenly Carr realizes she's lost track of time. It is already dark outside the glass double doors; there's not an inmate to be seen on the compound. The yard might be closed. Carr calls out to a guard patrolling in the distance. He might agree to escort her to her dorm -- or he might put her in lock. "Hurry up!" he yells. Carr rushes out, crossing the blue lines.

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