Last week, we brought HEAR ME, SEE ME: Incarcerated Women Write to CRCF, enough for each woman currently inside who has ever written with us and chose to receive one.
About 17 writers streamed to our weekly meeting room clamoring for this long-awaited moment. Another 15 joined the line and left, book clutched to chest, no doubt to peruse the pages after laundry, kitchen or hall cleaning duties were done. A dozen women elected to stay with us for an impromptu reading.
Once again I was struck by the power of our process. Since we started the program four years back, we have sought to bring the voices of silenced women from inside themselves, and the prison, out to the world. We do this with regular blog posts, quarterly anthologies and semi-annual readings. We did this with the book and its launch.
And weekly, we do this in a modest circle in a windowless room through a safe, mirroring community that helps each of us see ourselves, hear ourselves and one another into awareness and speech.
We often refer to the ‘arc of experience’ a woman follows in her time inside, one we see intimately within the writing circle. During last week’s book celebration inside, I saw that arc manifest in the responses of three different women.
A young, relatively new-to-writinginsideVT woman pouted through the evening because her work is not in the book. Although the manuscript was complete before she joined the circle – which she knew – she could focus only on her disappointment. Such self-absorbed denial is common among the incarcerated.
It took a while to reach the awareness of the second woman, who couldn’t stop crying. She had fully planned to attend the launch – until unexpectedly pulled back to prison a mere two days prior. Despite her bitter disappointment, she drew from within herself the grace to remain present, deeply proud of the greater whole.
The third woman, one of our long-term writers, was overcome with joy. “We are all published authors!” she grinned toothlessly, embracing everyone. Even her personal disappointment at missing the public launch could not dampen the reality that this modest community of women has made an impact on lives – their own, definitely – and beyond the bars, to the outside world.
The opportunity to be seen and heard for who we are is more than a gift. It is a necessity.