Thursday, August 15, 2013

Origami at Oregon State Penitentiary 4

This blog post is continued from: Origami at Oregon State Penitentiary 3.

I started teaching in front of approximately 50 inmates, the largest group that I've ever taught.  I had been so nervous to do this, but for some reason I was not scared at all, once I was there.  I first asked my usual question: "What have you made in origami?," as an ice breaker and started conversing with them.  It was like talking with any adult males with good manners.  Perhaps, I would've forgotten about the fact that they were criminals, if they weren't in their blue uniforms.

I showed them some photos of my artwork, as well as some world famous origami artists on the computer.  Jumping from my artwork photos to some profound origami artists' was like skipping from kindergarten all the way to graduate school.  Needless to say, they were impressed to see the artworks of Satoshi Kamiya and Eric Joisel.

After the presentation I did the demonstration of paper crane, the most known origami model of all.  Some asked if I would teach them how to make paper crane, but at the time I thought it would take too long to teach it to a group of that size.  Besides, I had a few other models in mind so I stuck to what I had planned.

1)Heart, 2)Box, 3)Sail boat, and 4)Tato (Japanese money wrap) are the four models that I had planned and taught.  I thought that the heart can also be given away as a gift to their visitor, or mailed off to a loved one.  This box model is be made out of any rectangular paper and quite practical.  The sail boat model is a seasonally appropriate, good looking display piece.  The tato, like the box, is another practical model.  I thought those were pretty good choices, since they were all very simple, practical, and/or visually pleasing.

No, I did not teach how to make origami guns, knives, hand saws or keys to the inmates, that would not have been appropriate!

I showed how to fold on a big sheet of paper and checked on everyone at each step, like I always do.  Thanks to Kurumi-san who went around to check on the group along with me, everything went smooth.  Everyone was able to finish folding each model, without getting too frustrated.  There were moments where I witnessed people in excitements, who were so happy and proud to see the finished products.  It was like their inner children emerged.  I can totally relate to the excitements that they experienced, and that is exactly why I love what I do: teach origami.

The two hours of origami session passed so fast.  As we left, many club members came to shake our hands and thanked us profusely for coming to teach.  From beginning to the end, everyone was so welcoming, polite, and appreciative of our visit.  I guess that it is not every day that they have visitors, or that they have a chance to learn something new.

Kurumi and I were escorted all the way back to the front door where we entered with an officer, and of course, there were just as much security to exit as it was to enter, but finally we got out.  After we exited the building, we took some photos in front of the prison building: a typical Japanese tourist thing to do.  Then we talked about how fun and interesting the whole experience was, and were very happy to have done what we did.  We even said to each other that we would love to come back to teach there again, which, by the way, will most likely be arranged some time next year, as it was talked about in e-mail exchange with the club afterwards.

Does it sound shallow to say that I feel like my experience has widened my perspective?  But it has.  I am extremely grateful for this opportunity to have arrived, and happy that I decided to do it.  I realized that the people that I met in the prison are just people like us, rather than bad people.  They just made bad choices.  They cannot undo the bad things that they've done in the past, but they can try to eclaim to be a good, productive part of society.  And we could help reclaim them.  I will be back there to teach.

Thank you for reading all these long posts.

Origami at Oregon State Penitentiary 3

This blog post is continued from: Origami at Oregon State Penitentiary 2

The day of my work at the prison arrived.  OSP is in Salem, over an hour drive away from my assistant Kurumi and I drove together.  We gave ourselves plenty of time to get there on time, but the traffic was really slow most of the way.  We finally arrived there 20 minutes before the scheduled time of teaching, but we had not yet gone through the security.

As we arrived the entrance of the building, we realized that we couldn't just open the door and enter.  We were at the maximum security prison, duh.  Of course the security is tight to get in, just as it is tight to get out.  We read the sign at the door, saying to enter the driver's license number on to the push panel, and we were finally let in by a prison officer.  He once again checked our IDs and told us to put all our belongings into a locker, except for my teaching materials, our IDs and our locker key.  The officer put us through security checks that are almost exactly like ones at airports, like metal detectors and x-rays.  After that, the same officer guided us down further into the building, and there, we were told to turn in our IDs to another officer.  He gave us stamps on our hands, which we couldn't see in our naked eyes but apparently glow in the dark or something.

After many security check points and heavy metal doors, we are finally let in to the official main part of the prison, where inmates live.  The same officer who first let us in walked us through hallways and to the meeting room.  There, I saw several men in light blue shirts and jeans setting up tables and chairs.  One of them came to greet us, introduced himself as the President of the Asian/Pacific Islander Club, and kindly asked if we were scared of coming.  At that point, I realized that I wasn't scared at all, once I got there, not like how I felt before.  Of course, I didn't answer him like that, instead I just said, "No, not scared..."

Some of the other club leaders came to greet us, and also offered us water, juice, and big cookies.  They were all extremely polite and grateful of our visit.  One of them said, "Make yourself feel at home!" but nah, I just couldn't feel myself at home in a prison (of course, I didn't tell him that, but I thought was funny).  As more club members arrived in the room we started talking about their club activities.  The  Club consists of not only Asians and Pacific Islanders but also other ethnicities.  They are all eager to learn more about their respective cultures as well as their neighbors, and they often invite a guest speaker or entertainer (such as myself) to teach them a new topic.  Not all accept their invitations, but some decide to come.  Their club activities also include fundraising for various charities, and they are proud to have raised money to help build a school in Vietnam, to relief funds affected by the tsunami in Japan, to help out troubled youth in Lane County, and so on.

There is actually a documentary made about their effort to help build a school in Vietnam, called 7,500 Miles to Redemption.  None of the club members had told us about it at the time, but after our visit Kurumi found out about this documentary while doing a research about OSP.  Here is the trailer of the documentary, 7,500 Miles to Redemption.

The first man who is being interviewed in the documentary is the president of the club, who initially sent me the invitation to OSP.  I actually have not seen the entire documentary, but I would love to watch it and write a review on it.

Now, it's finally about me teaching at the prison, but this post is getting a little long, so it is to be continued to the next post... Origami at Oregon State Penitentiary 4.

Origami at Oregon State Penitentiary 2

This blog post is continued from Origami at Oregon State Penitentiary.

I always considered myself an adventurous type.  If I weren't, I wouldn't have come and lived in a country different from where I was born in the first place.  But for some reason I was really nervous about having to work at a prison, especially when it's an all-male, maximum security prison.  Maybe it was all the movies that I had watched about prisons, I'm not sure.  I did, however, found myself a little therapy whenever I felt nervous: watching Dr. Evil's prison rap in Austin Powers on YouTube.  And it worked!  Ah, how embarrassing to admit that I love Austin Powers movies.

Anyways, as much as I was nervous I knew that I would feel more comfortable once well-prepared.  So I spent a lot of time getting ready.  Since it would be for a large group, I decided to give not only origami instructions but also presentation and demonstration.

Over the two months of slowly getting ready, I exchanged phone calls and e-mails with the prison staff.  I came to realize then that I would have to follow all kinds of rules that I never had to worry about when I teach elsewhere.  First of all, Kurumi and I had to go through background checks.  I also had to give them a list of all the materials that I planned to bring in to the prison.  Originally I wanted to bring some of my framed artworks to show, but since they contain glass I couldn't.  I thought of bringing my own laptop so I could show photos on it, but bringing in a computer was not allowed for security reason.  I wanted to show a video clip from YouTube, but no internet access.  Instead, I was told to bring in a flash drive with all the photos and downloaded video clips so that's what I did.

I was restricted not only as to what to bring but also what to wear to the prison.  I needed to dress conservative, not to show my skin.  No wire bra.  No blue clothes are allowed whatsoever because that's the color that inmates wear.  All of these things made me realize how restricted inmates live, and also how much freedom we take for granted out here.

I informed my friend/assistant Kurumi about all the rules, flow of the day, and also the origami models that I was going to teach.  After all that, we were all ready to go and hoped for the best.

To be continued... again to my next post: Origami at Oregon State Penitentiary 3

Origami at Oregon State Penitentiary

Over a year ago, I got invited to teach origami at Oregon State Penitentiary.  The invitation was from the president of the Asian/Pacific Islander group there.  At first, I didn't realize that it was from a prison, since I didn't even know the word "penitentiary" meant at that time (Ha!  After living in the U.S. over 10 years, I'm still learning new words...).  After reading the entire letter I looked up the word "penitentiary" in my English-Japanese dictionary app, and I was shocked especially since it was such a very polite, well-written invitation.

Nonetheless, I started to hesitate about accepting this invitation.  As much as I knew how origami could be beneficial to inmates in so many ways, I just wasn't sure if I could do my job, to teach origami, without being too nervous or intimidated.  After finding out that it would be for a large group of male inmates, many of whom committed serious violent crimes, I felt too overwhelmed.  A little wimpy Asian woman that I am, declined their request.

Even after I decided not to go, I kept wondering what it might be like if inmates learn to fold paper.  They could definitely benefit so much from learning origami.  It could help relieve their anxiety and stress.  It could build their self confidence.  It could teach them to be precise and patience.  It could help them learn logic, social skills, and so many other things.  Perhaps, I could make a positive change, to someone who need it the most.

A year after the initial invitation I finally decided that I want to go there to teach, after all.  A friend of mine, who is also an artist from Japan and living in Portland (glass artist Kurumi Conley), offered to come along and help, so I felt much more comfortable knowing I wouldn't be alone to teach.  Many of my friends also supported the idea of me teaching at the prison.  One friend had said, "the more you are put in uncomfortable situations the more you grow."  Another friend said, "you probably stand to gain as much as them."

Since I had let them know already a year ago that I would not be able to make it, I wasn't sure if they would still like me to teach there, after all.  But after an e-mail and a follow-up phone call, I was able to set up an appointment to visit.  The date was set after two months.  It was plenty of time to get ready.  I still felt nervous about doing this job, but at the same time, I became excited for this special opportunity that I got to have, thanks to my origami skill.  My new adventure had begun.

To be continued to the next post... Origami at Oregon State Penitentiary 2