‘Twas the sweetest of reunions…
Nine formerly imprisoned women now living in various communities throughout Vermont converged on Burlington’s Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center last Thursday evening, Oct. 3, for the book release of Hear Me, See Me: Incarcerated Women Write.
We had written with these women over the course of four years at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility – they, once outfitted in gray sweats and flip-flops, writing together in stark rooms ascreech with slamming metal doors, and many many interruptions.
Now this Thursday night, each of them strode down the Film House aisle in heels, dresses, sequins, form-fitting skinny jeans, with hair freshly styled and makeup applied. Their faces communicated a mixture of eagerness and nerves, yet they overflowed with joyful presence to see us and each other.
Each woman writer – Angie, Belinda, Raven, Margarita, Tess, Valerie, Michele, Joellen, and Stacy – took a seat up front, held the microphone in turn, and read slowly and deliberately her own words from the pages of this just-released book of incarcerated women’s writings.
More than 250 guests packed the Film House to receive their words. The audience listened carefully and quietly, withholding applause in favor of our practice of chiming between readers to preserve an atmosphere of sacred space.
For 40 minutes, the stories gathered momentum – from traumas, scars, losses, and challenges faced – to insights, dreams, strengths, and resilience reborn.
The crowd’s spontaneous cheer-filled ovation erupted after the last woman had read her work. There was a palpable energetic shift in the room, as the women writers stood with ecstatic faces to receive the unconditional waves of support.
It was a moment in which the power of mutual relationship reigned, where we all became each others’ teachers and each others’ students.
We asked our guests “what is stirring in you as a result of what you heard tonight?” More than 150 took the time to jot down their thoughts. We plan to share them with the women writers in future. Here’s a snippet. Gracious thanks for your incredible support all:
I am leaving today knowing and having learned about a side of today’s society I never thought I would hear from.
How is it that we forget our sameness, our humanity?
I am you, you are me … different stories but shared hopes, fears, courage.
Our struggles and sufferings as women and mothers are universal whether we’re physically in prison or not.
An entirely new view on life I have not experienced before.
These women are warriors, reminding me that your past doesn’t have to define you. There’s hope and love where there was once fear and hate.
All too often humans see others’ faults. Your strength and growth is inspirational.
What I have just listened to feels like a prayer. In my heart I know it’s true that mercy will always be the best way to heal the world.
Beautiful and strong women who are products of pasts, not prisoners of them.
Beautiful tribute. A lesson in being non-judgmental. Truly inspirational.
I am SO lucky and I don’t remember it enough. I should be remembering it every second.
I am a teacher by trade, but tonight I am your mesmerized student.
Thank you for helping me appreciate being in recovery. You are my inspiration.
This really made me consider my life; where I’m going and where I’ve been.
Your words have increased my capacity to love.
Thank you for creating the space for ALL of us to go inside and do the painful work of looking at our own selves and lives so deeply.
You are making a difference for those who may follow. You are role models, you are leaders.
You have reminded me that there is light and beauty in even the darkest place.