present-moments in hell

Tree of Half LifeI presented a steep challenge to the incarcerated women writers this week.

Write about a moment, an activity, or an interaction with someone ‘inside’ – where you were mindful; in the present moment; all senses engaged; and forgot about your worries briefly.

We utilized Mary Oliver’s poem Mindful as a springboard.

As I explained the writing prompts to the 18 women gathered though, I began to be overcome by doubts. My own looping mental thoughts went something like this: these women are wracked with worries galore – some can barely sit still in their seats due to anxiety – how are they going to identify a moment where they ‘lost themselves’ in this joyless, hell-forsaken place?

Not to worry. The writers delivered as they always do. 

At least a quarter of them wrote about phone calls to loved ones and children … how their scattered brains become hyper-focused during that five-minute phone call weekly … how they forget about their burdens and where they are physically .. how they know unfettered joy in the moment.

One woman verbalized the distinction between phone calls she experiences with family and friends when back home versus when she’s in jail. She admitted that her usual conversations are shallow and superficial, but become more soul-connecting and meaningful on the prison phone line.

This session cemented in my mind how important it is for ALL OF US to learn to become more present in the midst of the hellish moments of our lives – to learn how to pay attention, to acknowledge blessings out loud, to write down gratitudes, to chew our food slowly, to breathe deeply, to walk with reverence, or to invest ourselves with others on the telephone  – whatever works – in eeking out the swirling joys that we easily miss.

Read on.


I dial your number
I hope you’re home

the recorded voice starts yapping,
so you’ve answered the phone

“Hello SK
What are you doing?”
you say you’re making a snack,
and I hear you chewing

“You know what today is?”
You say, you sure do
“Today is Thursday, mom
the day I sing to you”

I smile
from ear to ear,
your voice is my release
my escape from in here

“What song will you sing?”
I’m dying to know
“One thing that I practiced,
it’s called ‘let her go’

You take a deep breath
and then hum a note
the song pours out,
tears clog my throat

Your voice takes me away,
your voice fills my heart
your voice takes me home
we’re no longer apart

I’m lost in your sound,
the jail fades away
I’m grateful to have you
I love Thursdays with SK – KF

– – – – –


I have five minutes to hear your voice
I am tuned in
It wasn’t supposed to be this way,
it wasn’t my choice

You told me all about
what you’re learning at school,
how much you love Nutcrackers
and how blueberry pie makes you drool

You told me about your new toys
and video games too,
how you built a snow fort outside
Then your little voice saying,
“it’s not much fun without you”

At that moment, a tear came to my eye
because I miss him so,
I started to cry
He then said, “don’t cry mommy,
you’ll be home soon,
we can make cookies
and you can lick the spoon”

I laughed and we were about
to say our goodbyes,
the “I love you so much”
and “I love you too,”
kisses and hugs through the phone

The last thing I said,
“just remember
you are never alone”

“I know mommy, you’re in my heart
and always have been
from the start”

My heart was smiling at that moment
nothing else mattered,
all that existed was my son and I
His name is H,
the apple of my eye EB

4 thoughts on “present-moments in hell

    • Marybeth says:

      Here you go, Alvarado! …a vision of Jesus at the end of her bed; breathing; visualizing the birth of a daughter; jail visit with a long-time friend; acknowledging moment to moment what a different person she is having one to jail (more purposeful, self-confident, etc.).


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