challenge . . . AND gift

the galsLast Saturday, a group of about 60, largely justice and social service professionals and advocates, gathered at Middlebury College to receive the gift of women’s voices. First, the sweet harmonious ones of WomenSing. And second, the courageous and heartfelt personal ones from ‘inside.’ The challenge was was that three of the five previously-incarcerated women who had hoped to attend, did not.

While these odds are not typical of our show rate inside (where our main competitor for group attendance is sleep), it was initially disheartening. But that sentiment didn’t last more than the two minutes it took to decide to move forward without them. The voices of the two women meeting at this reading for the first time rose and fell with their own cadences of regret, sadness, determination and love.

The audience was riveted. After approximately 30 minutes of reading, we opened the floor to questions. What followed was a genuine dialogue of curiosity and gratitude. To give a flavor of the event, which we neither taped nor photographed, I share here a few comments left by listeners in response to the question, ‘what is stirring in you after hearing these stories?’:

What a gift it has been to hear the stories of women in prison. We take so many things for granted. The obstacles they face need the healing that writing brings.

The courage of these women to grow, to forgive, to create a new way of being. How much value everyone brings to this world even when we lose our way for a while.

Women in prison are women who have been hurt deeply without – just one person – to help them heal and recover. Women outside of prison had that one person who saw and heard them.

Hearing these stories changes perceptions of incarceration.

I’m impressed with the pure authenticity of the writing and the women’s spoken words. They are so expressed – obvious the impact this program has had on their lives. BRAVO.

Honor of being here, tasting the sour spirit of pain and bubbling of hope as I re-ask myself, how do we all become whole? Thank you!

Admiration for the women who are working through their pain to be themselves. Courage to be who you are. Intelligent group work based on acceptance. Do you have to go to jail to be in a group like this?

You stirred in me a part of life I do not understand because I have not been there – except to visit and that was enough.

How the stories I hear outside this circle mirror those inside – how extraordinary and generous it can be to listen without judgment

this phrase is one I will take with me with SUCH GRATITUDE: “My desire to love has not been extinguished.”

What a gift, indeed. As a final tribute to last Saturday’s reading, I gathered some read-back lines from the audience to create this tiny found poem that speaks to AND from the hearts present at the event:

I am merely me
already hurt on the inside
looking for something it will take years to find.
Without my Joe, I have no one to call.

There’s so much I cannot mend –
 I lost a child and myself at such a young age.
Drugs made me do it.
Crawling on my knees
I need to stay hopeful,
get rid of my old unlawful self.

My desire to love has not been extinguished,
just my ability to do so.
I am here broken before you;
please release me.


2 thoughts on “challenge . . . AND gift

  1. alvaradofrazier says:

    I’m so happy that the presentation went well and even more enthused that comments such as “Hearing these stories changes perceptions of incarceration”. Perceptions are often translated to attitude and judgement, so changes (for the positive) make change so much more possible.
    Keep on doing what you are doing and God bless your work, the women, supporters and yourselves.


    • sarahwbartlett says:

      Thank you much! I so value your reading, sharing and commenting on our work. And this work is humbling, over and over again. We can get so used to the stories, we ourselves sometimes lose track of how powerful they are. Great teachers are words 🙂


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