When I do Dreamwork with people in jail, they either call me or send their dreams thru the post, snail-mail style. The jail allows one 20-minute call at a time and the inmates get into a cue to line up for use of the phone. They can use the phone anytime they are not locked down in their cells. They are locked down at 7:30pm until 9:30am every evening and for two-hour intervals throughout the day.
From 9:30 – 11:30am, then 1:30pm – 3:30pm and at 5:30 – 7:30pm they are out of their cells in a common area with access to phones, showers, & TV.
When someone calls with a dream, I just listen to the dream and then tell them the message of the dream with a focus on highlighting a positive in the dream. This will be some gift or quality or skill the person has which is showing up in the dream and I tell them this skill so they can remember to use it when facing the challenges coming up. Then I follow up with a letter to them with a more full interpretation & some suggestions or solutions for the problem in the dream. Every dream shows a problem & a solution. Without exception.
Sometimes people are calling just once. Sometimes they are calling several times to work through a specific metaphor showing up in the dream. Sometimes they are committing to working through issues in the dream which can take many weeks, months, maybe even years.
The reason why some problems can be solved in one conversation and some problems take years is because if there is trauma or abuse in the person’s background there could be a lot of fear or negativity coming up and those strong emotions take time to work through to heal the trauma.
Walking together through the strong emotions around the trauma is a powerful way to process the negative and to discover the hidden positives within the situation.
When working through a trauma-issue like this, as the dreamer starts to become aware of the source of his fears or anger and is becoming aware of the skills and tools he has at his disposal to help him deal with the problem then he can start to choose to take actions which lead away from the trauma and are more peaceful. In a practical sense, this means someone who used to go to punching as a way to express fear or anger, starts deciding to hold his anger in, and instead of punching does a bunch of pushups to release the energy. Or someone who used to turn to a drug to avoid the negative feeling, may decide to sit with the negative and work through it with the strength of their determination instead. Or someone who used to cause a lot of chaos around them to confuse the people they love in order to hide their negative behaviour, may decide to be more honest and direct and not cause negative distractions.
For example, one inmate who has shared about 15 dreams noticed a recurring issue he had which led him to punch other guys when he became angry. Recently, he noticed the anger coming up when someone broke a promise and the dreamer was able to calm himself down and not punch the guy. He chose not to react, and focused his attention on something else. Later he told me that it was the work he’s been doing on the issues which were coming up in dreams which made him realize he didn’t have to punch the guy.
In this way, the simple sharing of a dream and working through the interpretation creates a more peaceful environment for the inmates. This has an affect on their families too but I will write more about that in a future post.