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.