Community puzzle project now a ‘touchstone’ of hope in women’s prison.
The fi rst spark of positivity is often forged at rock bottom. Sheer desperation motivates us to move beyond the horrors of our current situation. Think about it this way: When a pendulum reaches the highest point in one direction of its swing, it is at its maximum potential energy.
Publisher Carolyn Delaney says, “The rock never sees the ripple it creates.”
Each of us throws our own rock and creates our own ripples. But together, as part of this magazine, we throw a handful of rocks, creating many ripples. One of those ripples happened after we published the March 2019 issue, which included a “People Like Us” story on Glenn Simpson by Lara Santoro.
Glenn, a social worker in recovery himself, sought to connect people through art. He thought of a puzzle, where each piece— each person, each story—is connected to the others. He brought oversized puzzle pieces to recovery communities throughout Maine and asked people to write a word or draw something representing their recovery and add it to the whole. At Portland’s Recovery Rally in September 2019, the whole puzzle—all 80 feet of it—came together in hours. People who may have felt isolated in recovery came to a public park and participated in a stigma breaking, joy-making, conversation-starting work of art.
That wasn’t the end of the ripple.
Heatherly Wing, a former inmate at Southern Maine Women’s Reentry Center, read the article on Simpson’s puzzle and brought the idea to the prison’s Community Culture women’s group. She recalls how nervous she was presenting the puzzle idea to the women’s population, saying that she wrote a two-page speech and then didn’t look at it once.
“I reminded women that recovery can be from a lot of things, not just drugs,” Heatherly said. “It could be a recovery from trauma or any unfortunate event in our lives and even recovery from a disconnection with our higher power.”
The women were so interested that some who were being released soon wanted to be sure to get a piece before their release date.
“It was so overwhelming with inspiration and amazing to see how the attitudes of a few women can change those of almost 100 others,” Heatherly said. “That unity was amazing.”
Inmate Sarah Suchswanz said, “You can really see where someone is at in their recovery just by looking at what they put on their piece. My favorite piece has words all around the puzzle piece, recovery words, positive words, and I was amazed at how many there were and that they didn’t repeat.”
Even more ripples are occurring as the puzzle wall impacts new women coming into the correctional system.
“It’s impacting the new women who come in, and it’s a contact touchstone to remind us of recovery and hope,” said inmate Claire Valenoti. “The women ask for more recovery connections and express interest in the ways that more recovery opportunities, like 12-step sponsors, can be brought in to them.”
Inmate Tomihka Hood told us that both the magazine and the puzzle wall have been inspiring for her in her journey of recovery. “My higher power created a series of events that got us here,” she said.
“The magazine was brought in, Heatherly took that and helped start the puzzle wall. … Recovery comes in waves, whether you are in or out of prison.”
Heatherly now manages Refuge House, a 12-step Christian-based recovery home in Portland, making more ripples.
It’s about connection. It’s about the contagious quality of hope. It’s about stories of survival, strength, positivity, and love. Each person is a ripple of positivity, of light and of hope, all amplified by the connections they forged with each other