keeping hope in jail

A woman in jail must learn to cultivate hope for herself, or she will become despondent and bitter.

Writing is a healthy, pro-social exercise that can cultivate hopeful visions of life-to-come.

keeping hope in jail

By Toni Holopainen

Some of our long-term women writers at Chittenden Correctional Facility in Vermont have been trickling out of the facility, making those left behind miss their circle members.

I decided it was time to pull out Lisel Mueller’s poem Hope to help us rekindle that eternal well-spring within ourselves.

Incarcerated writers were encouraged to imitate Mueller’s style by visually describing what hope looks and feels and sounds like–to them.

The first piece, written by a younger 20-something, is rich in insight about the unbreakable bond she carries with her child. The second is whimsical and fun–please enjoy!


“It is the mouth that inflates the lungs
of the child that has just been born.”
Hope is love. Unconditional and pure
as snow falling fresh from bitter skies.
Stinging and painful with all its beauty. 
Freedom of the soul is unlocked
from the pureness of a child’s cry,
as he suckles his way closer to you.
Searching for the nourishment and life
you have so willingly provided.
Nothing has ever felt so right to you.
Swaddling him in a cocoon of safety
and comfort, as you are life and growth
for him; he as well has supplied you
with a feeling only God can describe,
as something that never breaks or fades.
This bond only becomes stronger in time.
His time in the womb was magical,
as you helped create and grow life.
The hope for his future is great.
Maybe someday he will be broken-hearted
and struggle as a man, but today he is a
wrinkly newborn lying naked on your chest.
As your eyes meet, you know there is nothing
stronger than a mother’s love for her children.
..and the hope that this bond only grows.    -OG

*     *     *


Hope is my dog’s hot breath hitting my ear,
and the sun that is peering in on my skin.
Hope is the sound of a hot frying pan,
and wonderful smells coming from the kitchen.
Hope is my dad behind that frying pan
making something good to eat.
Hope is bare feet hitting the moist grass
to hitch the dog to her run.
Hope is a dust-covered Calico cat
that smells of warmth.
Hope is the whistling I hear
as I come back into the house.
Hope is a big glass of OJ (that has no pulp).
Hope is Eggs Benedict, yeah that’s the stuff.
Hope is the beginning of a new day
full of enchantment and time to play
in the summer day!  -CR

. . . and you?

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