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