Reviewer Judith Wright Favor is an elder member of Claremont Monthly, Southern California Quarterly, and Pacific Yearly Meetings. Her latest publication is the Pendle Hill pamphlet: Friending Rosie on Death Row.
Friending Rosie: A Review
by Judy Lumb
(Set to be published in the upcoming August 2022 issue.)
Judith Favor is an author and frequent contributor to What Canst Thou Say? You may have seen recent practical books on Sabbath Economics, or her novel, The Beacons of Larkin Street. Friending Rosie is about finding truth on death row. It first appeared as a book, alternating writings by Friend Judith and the inmate with whom she began corresponding in 2000. It also includes some of Rosie’s art.
Friend Judith begins by commenting that modern social media have turned “friend” into a verb, which she did way back in the 1960s and now reclaims in the title. With encouragement from members of Quakers United in Publishing (QUIP), Judith later condensed her Quaker testimony into a Pendle Hill Pamphlet.
“Rosie’s words and mine have come together in these pages to make a larger story. The practice of rereading brought out themes, like becoming better women. When we keep moving through the written word, hearing and seeing it again, we are likely to notice things we didn’t see or hear the first time.”
Rosie writes, “Here’s my Serenity Prayer: God grant me the forgiveness for committing murder … The strength to one day forgive myself before I go insane or die … And the wisdom, no matter what, to realize and accept that I am and can be a better woman. Help me. Amen.”
As with her other books, I found Friending Rosie a compelling read. The personalities of both authors come shining through. Here is truth in a poignant form: “Whenever we speak truth, or write truth, or hear truth, a kind of internal yes occurs. The chest may expand. The face may light up. Tears may well up in our eyes. We may tip our head back for a moment and press our eyes shut. Perhaps we place a hand on our chest or form our fingers into a steeple and press them to our lips. Our shoulders may lift and straighten. If someone is near, we may move closer to them, reach out for a hug or lay a hand on their back or shoulder. The Truth receiver in us senses the presence of the platinum thread and wants to savor the moment.
“The breath gathers in each new truth and lets it out. Ah Yes. This is true. There is a feeling of rightness. Some mysterious bodily sense lets us know when the right words do come, words we can trust.” – Judith Favor, Friending Rosie.
Appendices provide useful information on Restoration and ways to support women prisoners.
Judy Lumb is a member of the What Canst Thou Say? editorial team.
She is a member of both Atlanta Friends Meeting and the Belize Friends Church.
She splits her time between Barranco, Belize, and Atlanta Georgia.
March 3rd, 2022
by Judith Favor, member of Claremont Friends Meeting (Quakers)
I’ll tell you four stories about Claremont people who connect interfaithfully with people in prison. But first, a note about the word religion. It originally meant “that which binds together,” but religious words can also be used to tear people apart. In Claremont, we commune freely in interfaith gatherings. We move safely between churches, mosques, meeting houses, meditation halls, sanghas and chapels, but in many places religious beliefs divide people. Religious disputes are common at the Central California Women’s Facility, where inmates from different traditions carve out little pieces of truth and hold on for dear life. What eases the pressure and brings peace? Open-hearted listening.
Rick Moore’s story comes first because he was my first mentor in the art of listening. He founded the Prison Library Project in Claremont to hear the voices of those behind bars. I met Rick in 1998, and was touched by his care for incarcerated persons. I became the second PLP volunteer, reading letters, hearing yearnings, and doing my best to meet requests for books. Many want dictionaries. Responding to handwritten letters from inmates is a low-risk form of listening. Several Pilgrim Place residents read and reply to hundreds of letters each month. The Prison Library Project needs more volunteers. Your caring attention can make a big difference.
The second story is about Claremont women. Twenty-plus years ago, I was a newly-minted Quaker, led by the Spirit to befriend a woman sentenced to die for her crime. Rosie requested pen-friends for others on death row, and Pilgrims took up the call. Gail Duggan recruited Presbyterian women to befriend women at CCWF. Carolyn Francis inspired Claremont United Methodist Church women to form a group called JUDI—“Just Do It”—to offer care, prayer and listening ears to incarcerated women. When Rev. Rosemary Davis rented a van, a bunch of us traveled to Chowchilla to visit inmates with whom we’d been corresponding. Before long, Catholic nuns started “Get On The Bus,” and Claremonters of many faiths gave up Mother’s Day weekend to accompany kids eager to share hugs, stories and games with their moms behind bars.
The third story is mine. Early in our relationship, Rosie requested Pepsi each time I visited. I chose grapefruit juice. After a decade or so, she switched from caffeinated soda to apple juice, but the rest of the routine remains the same. Female officers strip-search Rosie, then escort her to the visitor center in handcuffs and ankle chains. I wait in attorney room A or B. Once we are locked in together, she has privacy to speak her truth without being overheard. I’m a Quaker and Rosie was raised Catholic. I’m a pretty good listener, genuinely curious about what matters most to her. I don’t interrupt, don’t change the subject, and do ask open, genuine questions. Our conversations can be painful, confessional, semi-serious, silly or completely hilarious.
When we get hungry, she signals the guard to let me out. While I wait in line at the vending machines to purchase our pre-packaged lunches, Rosie sculpts brown paper napkins into the shape of roses. She sets the table with plastic forks and packets of Tabasco sauce. An armed guard lets me in, locks the door and returns to his station. I place food on the table and sit across from my friend. We bless the drinks, the burritos and the salads, then we share stories. Rosie does most of the talking. Locked up together at CCWF in Chowchilla, two women of different generations and religions celebrate prison communion with food, drink, and vulnerable conversation.
The fourth story is ours. She and I co-wrote “Friending Rosie: Respect on Death Row.” The idea came in 2019 while I was a patient at the Pilgrim Place Health Services Center. Weak from multiple fractures, struggling with rehab, I was awakened in the night and heard “Write a book with Rosie.” First I protested, then accepted the sacred call. Rosie objected to my initial proposal and refused, so I rewrote it. An “anchor committee” of Quakers helped me season it. Once Rosie and I reached common ground on the shape of the book, it took a long time to interweave her letters, my memories and the perspectives of her mother and sister.
“Friending Rosie” is a “porous” book, meant to be opened at any page by readers seeking insight or information. Our friendship story is structured around themes of faith and practice that reflect our purposes here on earth. Rosie wants to speak the truth, seek forgiveness and become a better person. My purpose is to honestly convey the little miracles that can happen spiritually when one friend is locked up and one is free. Seeing things differently, and tentatively expressing our inner truths brings both participants into sacred presence where healing and transformation take place. Prepare to be surprised—mutual gifts await!
Friending Rosie Respect on Death Row
Book Review by Jon M. Sweeney
Judith Wright Favor is a Quaker volunteer in prison ministry and a former UCC pastor and seminary professor. She has authored other books and has led programs on spiritual journaling, contemplative writing and listening, and composing a spiritual memoir for Spirituality & Practice.
Judith’s friend, Maria del Rosario Alfaro, is a mother, grandmother, artist, and California Death Row inmate. She is a first-generation American citizen, born in Anaheim to parents who came to the United States from the southwestern coast of Mexico to find jobs at Disneyland. Maria has been in prison since the age of eighteen, convicted of murder. Her life before prison was surrounded by drug and alcohol abuse, prostitution and crime, and domestic violence — and three-plus decades in prison haven’t been much better.
In Judith’s words, “This book is about friending in the Light, the art and practice of listening beyond labels for the is-ness of imprisoned persons who live under conditions of daily disrespect. It is about hearing what goes on in prison and maybe increasing your curiosity about getting to know other inmates in addition to Rosie. It is also an invitation to consider investing your own time, talent, tenderness, and treasure in reaching out to a lonely soul behind bars.”
Her hope is that you, too, may be inspired to reach out to one of the more than two million people in this country behind bars.
Judith and Maria’s relationship began by exchanging letters. Judith’s reaching out runs counter to human nature, because she says, “Humans have a long history of avoidance: we can come up with countless ways to hide unbearable truths from ourselves.” They exchanged letters and cards for twenty years. Then, a few years ago, they decided to tell their combined story in a book. Judith’s son had just died and some of the trauma of that experience was redeemed by a collaboration bringing Maria’s story to light.
Friending Rosie is not all about Rosie, and is not simply about what is happening to a woman on Death Row. The process of coauthoring a book with Maria brought up painful memories for Judith, too, from her relationships and her past. Readers of this joint memoir may have similar experiences.
Favor lives and writes in the Quaker spiritual tradition of listening, friendship, dignity, and respect. “Quaker friending is an active verb,” she explains. Later, she compares “friending” to a “steady heartbeat.” Referring to another core teaching of Quakerism she writes, “The Inner Light is the true author of this book.”
Favor explains in detail how respect is shown through the spiritual practices of showing up, self-care, expressing gratitude, deep listening, apologizing, forgiving, loving, playing fair, and trusting.
Together with Alfaro, Favor discusses images of God, and how these sometimes help, and sometimes hinder, their practice in the world. At one point, Favor explains, “The God I know is trustworthy and merciful, not the thunderous, punitive King feared by Rosie. My friend struggles mightily to trust God, self, and others because her soul was marked by persistent abuse.”
Some of the metaphors in the book become new forms of ancient spiritual practices — such as “Heartful Artfulness,” on creativity, and “Extreme Grace,” on the role human beings can and should play in each other’s lives.
Announcement in Friends Journal
Very Excited to announce that, with ReadersMagnet, I am publishing
a major upgrade to a book I wrote early in my writing career.
Please give this brief entry a good look!
William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2019
“In prayer, as in many other areas of life, we ‘learn by going where we have to go.’” I was delighted to see a line from Theodore Roethke’s “The Waking” as Marilyn McEntyre’s opening words in When Poets Pray because this was the first poem I ever memorized. The author’s writing captivated me from beginning to end: “Pray in dialogue with a poem,” she concludes, “in ‘call and response’ fashion, pausing after each line or two to speak or write a prayer that the poem evokes or allows.”
I experienced an animated, almost visceral quality in the pages of When Poets Pray. I like McEntyre’s genuine warmth in sharing personal gifts she receives from poets who pray. I like her quiet, unassuming way of weaving prayerful human yearnings into poetic scholarship. I especially like her choice of “Eagle Poem” by Joy Harjo, the first Native American U.S. Poet Laureate, who invites us into nonverbal ways of praying “in languages that aren’t always sound but / Circles of motion/ True circles of motion / like eagle rounding out the morning / Inside us.”
When Poets Pray sweeps from the medieval worldview of Hildegard of Bingen to contemporary poets Lucille Clifton, Francisco X. Alarcon, Anna Kamienska and Wendell Berry. I found the author’s poetry selections as emotionally potent as they are illustrative. John Donne’s “Batter my heart, three-person’d God…” dives down into the dark mysteries of prayer. George Herbert and Thomas Merton penned overtly biblical prayer-poems. Mary Oliver, Denise Levertov and Galway Kinnell remind us how prayer can overlap with our own interior self-talk. “When the disciples ask Jesus, ‘’Teach us to pray,’ writes McEntyre, “they seem to be aware that prayer involves practice – even a learning curve—and some serious retraining in habits of the heart.” I laughed at the author’s playful interpretation of Scott Cairns, whose poetry “offers a wry, timely look at a few of the varieties of self-deception that those who pray are prey to.”
My only critique is that the author, a retired educator, did not include any Quaker poets. I do see McEntyre creating a pioneering archive here, one that links prayer with poetry, and hope she continues in this direction. Friends who treasure Leading From Within: Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Lead (Introduction by Parker Palmer) will want to invest in a hardbound edition of When Poets Pray, not only to have and to hold but also as a resource in guiding spiritual practice groups.
Judith Favor of Claremont Meeting in Southern California values true prayer and true poetry. Both are essential nutrients for her contemplative soul.
by Eleanor Scott Meyers
ESMeyersPRESS, Claremont CA, 2018
Paperback, 282 pages, $18.95
Available online through Powells Bookstore and Amazon
Ruth meets Cassandra early in her marriage to Ed and gradually becomes central to a quietly piercing, entirely credible three-way love story that sustains an unwanted child, a large extended family, a small Midwestern town – and the reader – until death do us part.
Beloved lesbian commitment is not the book’s only, or even principal subject. One of the pleasures of The Compromise is how sturdily it takes shape in a rural Kansas community during the Depression and how carefully it skirts the high drama to which same-sex-advocate storytellers often resort. Readers will find no treachery in this novel, only delicately nuanced restraint as two women and one man bond in friendship through the hurts, doubts, joys and challenges of a permanently lopsided relationship. Son Taylor eventually “unriddles” his unconventional upbringing to uncover the legacy of being parented by a threesome. His wife Margaret, firmly rooted in the author’s own experience, speaks potently to the questions of generational pain that haunt our times. Her wise, calm voice testifies to the faith, hard work and enduring love that bring grace into the present.
This tri-fold romance unfolds at a deliberate clip with a sharp eye for peripheral detail. Meyers writes in muted, controlled images; she likes to show us the rooms her characters inhabit, the implements they use and the aprons they wear. Many scenes take place in dining rooms and kitchens; the story opens in a cemetery and closes after a funeral. Latter chapters detail the complexities of aging as Margaret helps Ruth and Ed wrestle with decisions about where to live, what to discard and how to manage their final years.
The Compromise is clearly the work of an artist who loves her subjects. In her first novel, Eleanor Scott Meyers gifts us with generational hope, faith and love conveyed in subdued, emotionally layered prose. Her sturdy characters comforted me as I kept vigil at my son’s deathbed. They will speak to Friends facing old age, a testimony to what love can do in complex personal relationships warmed by simplicity, truth, peace, integrity and community. Book discussion groups will find this novel rich in meaning.
Judith Favor is grateful for this loving glimpse into a rural Midwestern household upheld by Quaker values. She is a member of Claremont Meeting in California.
St. Martin’s Press, 2018. 272 pages.
$26.99/hardcover; $16.99/paperback (available June 2019); $13.99/eBook.
Reviewed by Judith Favor on October 1, 2018 in Friends Journal
The Sun Does Shine is the true story of an innocent black man’s unjust conviction, his despair on Alabama’s death row, and his practice of peacemaking behind bars. In “The Death Squad” chapter, Anthony Ray Hinton’s anguish is palpable as he describes men in chains being walked past his cell to the electric chair. He leads inmates to bang on the bars of their cells during electrocutions, raising a holy ruckus of accompaniment and protest.
Hinton eased racial grudges and grievances by aiding KKK and African American inmates alike. “A book club will help things stay more peaceful,” he told the warden, pointing out that reading books would be a good way for the men to quietly spend time and focus on something other than the negative aspects of life on death row. He also added, “I do think it will help [the guards] have an easier time doing their jobs.” His resourcefulness led to the first death row book club. In chapters titled “Love Is a Foreign Language” and “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” Hinton reveals which authors forged community between black and white convicts.
I was disappointed in two aspects of The Sun Does Shine. My friend Rosie on death row cannot read it, because hardcover books are forbidden in her facility (and in many others too). My greater hurt is all the women missing from the afterword. Preceding nine pages of “the men and women who sit on death row in this country” (as of March 2017) listed in “Pray for Them by Name,” Hinton writes:
Statistically, one out of every ten men on this list is innocent.… Read these names. Know their stories.… The moral arc of the universe needs people to support it as it bends.… Read the names out loud. After every tenth name, say, “Innocent.” … The death penalty is broken, and you are either part of the Death Squad or you are banging on the bars. Choose.
He chose a provocative way to conclude, but I am pained that, for some reason, the women on death row in Central California Women’s Facility and other facilities are not acknowledged.
During the author’s reading at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, I was moved by his honesty, his vulnerability, and his simplicity. Hinton’s true voice is inscribed on every page, and his tears, too. Three relationships kept him going through 30 years of wrongful incarceration: his mother’s unconditional love, his friend Lester’s faithful visits, and legal advocate Bryan Stevenson’s commitment to setting him free. Stevenson, the author of Just Mercy, took Hinton’s case to the Supreme Court where all nine justices confirmed his innocence. That day at the bookstore, Hinton gave the crowd one closing bit of advice: “If you ever get arrested for a crime you didn’t commit, do two things. Pray first, then make your 911 call directly to Bryan Stevenson.”
The Sun Does Shine may deepen the commitment of Friends working for prison reform, offer fresh insights to Friends conducting Alternatives to Violence Project workshops with inmates, and perhaps inspire new AVP volunteers.