Monday, May 17, 2010
The WordCount Blogathon Guest Blogger Day is tomorrow. And for this year's event, we decided to add a Q/A interview the day before. It'll allow us to fully introduce you to our guest blogger, and give you a sneak preview of what's ahead.
Tomorrow, here at BIKE WITH JACKIE, you'll be hearing from the inspiring Kathy Murray. She blogs over at OUTANDEMPLOYED, where her focus is to help ex-offenders re-enter the workforce. We thought, because we both reach out to women and people in transition, we would be able to swap posts and provide another viewpoint for you to think about on your road to recovery--no matter what the recovery is. Remember, I've said before, truly, we are all in some form of recovery at some point in our lives.
But first, here are few things you might want to know about Kathy before she shares her thoughts with you tomorrow:
_Can you tell my readers a bit about your background and how it relates to the thoughts expressed and discussed here at BIKE WITH JACKIE?
Hmm….how much time do you have? No really, like a lot of writers, I guess I’ve had a pretty varied background... I grew up a shy, rather sheltered kid in a small town in the Midwest, but I’ve been fortunate to live all over the U.S. and overseas in London and Beijing, which has been life-changing. I’ve done stints as CPA, a magazine and newspaper reporter, an editor, journalism instructor, Chinese language assistant, a volunteer probation officer and most recently as a crazy sports mom (I’m in recovery now, hopefully).
Right now, I do mostly business writing for work, and spend my free time working on my blog OUTANDEMPLOYED, which grew out of a course I teach ex-offenders at the local jail in Fairfax, VA. Like the students I teach, I consider myself a work in progress. I think that’s one of the reasons BIKE WITH JACKIE resonates with me. So little of my life has turned out the way I expected. And yet, I’m excited about where I am and really grateful for all the experiences, good and bad. Along the way, I’ve become better at accepting that my BEST SELF isn’t about being perfect and relying on my INNER SRENGTH, but listening to my KILLER INSTINCT and trusting my EXPRESSIVE VOICE are daily challenges. Good thing you say this is a lifelong process.
_We discussed this on the phone briefly where you told me that you became involved in the volunteer work that you do with ex-offenders (as as well as offenders inside the jailhouse) because you were looking for a way to get outside of your comfort zone. Can you address any fears you might have had going into this work and how you addressed them?
Yes, I’d recently moved back to the U.S. after nearly 9 years overseas, where I got used to being around people who didn’t think like I did. It really made me stretch. I mean, in China, just doing the basics like buying food at the grocery store was an adventure.
Then suddenly I found myself back in a lovely but fairly homogenous suburb. I don’t want to give the impression that I decided to work with offenders out of boredom, it’s just that I needed to find a way to challenge myself again. I’m not a big organizer, so helping out the PTA wasn’t doing it.
I guess my initial fear – or maybe my husband’s was, couldn’t you find a safer way to get out of your comfort zone? I had worked with offenders as a volunteer probation officer in the past, but that was really before I had kids. Going back into a jail again spooked me at first, with the guards and all those clanging doors. But once I went into the classroom and started getting to know my students, that changed. My bigger concern became, how can I best help them? From that point on it’s really been a matter of asking the right questions and really listening. Even after working with offenders in the past, I still had some misconceptions about who would be in jail, which needed to be corrected. I’ve met people there who could have been my college roommates. They have advanced degrees, seemingly perfect lives, but still made a mistake.
_You mentioned that the other volunteers you work with have generally come from the system themselves, meaning, they've had a son or daughter who's served time in jail who then moved beyond their troubled and youthful days. This work became these mothers' calling. How did you arrive here?
That’s always a challenging question and one I’m not sure I’ve found the answer to yet. Or maybe I don’t want to know it. An editor I worked with early in my career on a fraud story, once said to me, “C’mon, you think like a criminal, you can figure this out.” I’m sure it was a throwaway line designed to inspire me, but I’ve always been haunted by it. No one in my immediate family has ever been arrested or in prison, thankfully, but I am descended from a long line of Black Irish stock, so I’m sure if you go back far enough with all that drinking and angst….I guess the bottom line – and this has become even more true as I’ve gotten to know more offenders – is that I can relate to people who cross the line and make huge mistakes. And I really like to hope they can find their way back. That we all can, I guess.
_We also discussed on the phone that you look for a common ground with those you might be working with inside the jailhouse, something aside from the fact that they are serving a sentence together. What is it that you've discovered? What are the other commonalities, and what can the general population learn from them?
Again, as I said in my answer to your previous question, we all screw up at one point or another in our lives. Offenders have made huge, sometimes irreparable, life-destroying mistakes that have landed them behind bars. But they’re human and like all of us struggle with frailties and weaknesses – and maybe more than most of us, with addictions, mental and emotional illnesses and really horrible upbringings. And yet, people are people, and in every session I get someone who turns out to be the leader, somebody who’s the peacemaker, the complainer, the talker, and those few who will only tell their stories privately, but when they do reveal incredible talents and strengths. If I didn’t meet most of them in jail, I wouldn’t know they’d ever broken the law.
_Can you tell my readers a bit about your blog and what your readers take away from your posts?
Sure. Right now OUTANDEMPLOYED is a couple of things, since I’m really still developing the blog. For ex-offenders who read it, I’m hoping first of all, that I’m giving them good information. I also hope they take away a sense that they’re not alone and that they can start their lives over if they’re committed to it. For other readers, I’m hoping that they maybe gain more of a sense that there’s no such thing as typical ex-offender and that most people who have committed a crime regret it deeply. Like anyone who’s made a mistake, they want to know how to make it right, serve out their punishment and move on.
_Since we're focusing on INSPIRATION this month here at BIKE WITH JACKIE, you'll be blogging about that topic for me as my guest blogger tomorrow. Can you give us a little sneak preview about what you'll have to say to my readers?
I’m going to concentrate on the EXPRESSIVE VOICE part of your equation. On what inspires my voice and my writing, and, by extension, how I live my best life. Ironically, it’s actually other people’s voices – the more different from mine the better. Whether I'm trying to understand people in a different culture like China, or in very different circumstances such as my students serving sentences – hearing someone else, or listening well pulls me out of my own head into – for lack of a better way of explaining it – the feeling, or heart place. Seeing the world from another person's point of view forces me to find that common connection. That always results in being not only more expressive, but more authentic and human. As writers working alone, I think we all run the risk sometimes of falling in love with the words and ideas in our heads and then getting stuck when what comes out doesn’t seem to work. I think this can also affect how we live our lives in general. It can be so easy to get caught up in our own stuff, when the antidote, the inspiration we're looking for, is outside of us with everyone else.
Thank you, Kathy. I look forward to sharing your thoughts tomorrow and hope that my readers will gain something new from your insights. See you then.
By the way, you'll find my Q/A today with Kathy Murray at OUTANDEMPLOYED. Check it out. If you have any questions for Kathy, be sure to come back tomorrow when she'll be checking in to answer them.