Thursday last we held our twice-yearly Read Around inside Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility – the evening our writing women share their words with invited guests, some from outside the facility and many from other units within.
Each time we do this, a predictable sequence of emotion shudders through the group. It starts with nervous jitters, morphs into relief after each woman has read, and by the end, coalesces into a sense of shared community, a deep connected unity. Women’s underlying support for one another, their silent cheer leading, all come together in this shared celebration of vulnerability and strength, of loss and hope.
This past week’s event was no exception. What WAS exceptional, however, was the mutual respect in the room.
Throughout the entire event – from introductory remarks by Co-Director Marybeth Redmond announcing the finalization of the cover art for our forthcoming book of these very women’s writings and welcoming special guests including our eagerly involved funders; to the final moments of sharing a gratitude for the evening from each person in the room – the respect within and for the circle was manifest.
In particular, inmates from other units were attentively engaged; quietly participatory; enthusiastic in offering feedback; and pleasantly social post-reading as they mingled with cookies, lemonade and conversation. More than one reader was moved to comment and thank them. And, as evidenced by the cards collected at the end of the reading, guests and readers were of one mind.
What this telling does NOT reveal is that previous readings have emitted a very different vibe. So what has changed? The coalescing of our core group of writers into a true community, one that takes pride in its shared practices of deep listening and mutual respect. We receive what we give. And on this particular evening, the women of the writinginsidevt circle experienced that reciprocity with their guests. THIS was an evening of manifest respect.
What follow are but a sampling of the 35 comments in response to the prompt, what are you taking with you from tonight’s read-around, and what are you leaving behind?
“The peace and happiness and thoughts I put into this group every week.”
“I’ll take the memory of the strong, honest and painful words I heard today, and will leave behind respect.”
“I will take the memory and new found strength to read in front of others; I will leave my fear of doing so.”
“Take with me the total respect of the guests towards the readers.”
“Take with me power of words and of voice; leave behind so much pain, so much loss, grief and sadness.”
“I take the feeling that this work matters a great deal. I leave behind my heart/compassion/hope for those struggling tonight.”
“How sincere these girls sound speaking from their hearts. I now have a new outlook on a few girls that read tonight.”
“I will take with me a sense of unity amongst all women. Regardless of circumstance, we are all plagued by anxiety, regret, self-hate and a longing for something missing. We are also all deserving and in need of love, acceptance, support and empathy. I will leave behind all judgment and move forward renewed.”
“I take with me the words of some very talented women. I leave behind some judgments I may have had of some of them. This was very touching and emotional for me to hear these women’s hearts.”
“The inspiration to be heard; the need to always speak. Thank you for a most amazing experience!”
“’I pray for quiet miracles’ – how brave for an introvert to share herself and her writing. How powerful this experience must be for that to happen.”
“I will take from the read-around the energy and beauty of the women’s words. I leave behind my wish that they continue, my faith that they will, and my ongoing support of this wonderful project.”