Last week, Chittenden Regional Correctional Faclity hosted a visit by four women Afghani judges. writinginsideVT was among the programs presenting to them – an honor on many levels. For one thing, women’s prisons in Afghanistan do not have the kinds of programs we have here. In addition, these judges had never actually been inside those prisons. As a result of this visit, they returned home determined to change their relationship to incarcerated women in their country.
One interesting side-note was their love of poetry, how many of their gatherings begin and end reading a poem – just as in our writinginside groups! I had with me a copy of our last quarterly anthology to show them how we collect, distribute and honor our writers’ words. They asked to hear a poem as we closed our time together.
After I read, slowly, to allow the interpreters time to translate, there was a brief pause as they took in the words still hanging in the air. Then one of our administrators commented on his discomfort with how dark the writing was, how it surprised him.
Prison is a dark place. Despite programs and opportunities, inmates can often feel as if facing a dead-end. Sometimes this writing surprises even the woman producing it. The following words from this past week are such words: raw, honest and true.
I feel like folding back on myself,
coiled up like a spring. Becoming tenser,
tighter, edgier. Tenser, tighter, edgier.
TENSER, TIGHTER, EDGIER . . . SNAP!!
I spring forward, I run . . . where?
I don’t know. I just know to stay here is death.
To stay here is to be a rotting corpse.
So I run. I run to be free. I run to see.
I run to see the truth. The truth is
I long to be free. Not the freedom that comes
from being let out of jail. I long for the freedom
from the imprisonment of my own mind –
the worst and most tortuous place for me to be.
The heavy chains of past guilt. Real or imagined.
Past wrongs of varying degrees. I am the worst judge,
jury, jailor. So I run to be free.
But. . . how?