birthday cakeA critical mass of women inmates at the Chittenden Correctional Facility in Vermont are celebrating birthdays this month, thus our selected writing theme!

We opened our circle of 14 writers, checking in by recalling a memorable birthday present received.

Some of their responses – a shiny new bike, three chocolate mayonnaise cakes on a single birthday, and a Daisy BB gun given to one woman by her father – prompted toothy chuckles from us all.

When the question-at-hand reached one young woman in the circle, she paused for what seemed like an eternity of 15 seconds, looked up and said without any bitterness in her tone, “I can’t think of anything.”  

“Thank you,” I said with a pit forming in my stomach, “for taking the time to really think about it.” It hadn’t occurred to me that a woman would’t be able to surface in her mind even one memorable gift.

Another inmate, who recently returned to prison on an “escape charge” (which means she discontinued contact with  Probation & Parole while living in the community, as well as violated her conditions of release) had this to say: “my most memorable birthday was the one I just celebrated while free.  It’s been along time since I had a birthday on the outside.”

I myself remember celebrating # 38 with her over a couple of lattes at a local cafe.

When the writing inside VT session segued into actual writing time, one 50-something woman penned this touching prose about her own “birth day” and the months and days leading up to it. In the piece, her mother is married, the wife of a country doctor, living in an unfamiliar town and newly pregnant.

As this writer reads her piece aloud to the circle, she circulates a series of note cards with the loveliest watercolors on the cover – painted by this very same mother who writes to her to this day.

Enjoy this sweet piece by ACB:


She carried me around for nine months and counting – in the public eye every waking moment.

“Who is this stranger? What is she like? She’s very classy. She’s educated! She’s the doc’s wife! They just got married. She’s pregnant!”

Prayers and more prayers. Excited and scared.She knew about birthing babies – but her own?! What about being a wife?! Loving, caring, nurturing TWO people. “I need to cook good meals.”

“Ma made it THIS way,” (she heard often). Alone, with no one to confide in within a three-hour drive.

She’s very independent…she helps her husband every day at work. Scared excited, decisive. She’s a good role model for others. Figuring out the customs of a completely different society. In the spotlight always.

“They want to know what you’re having for dinner. Is that a new outfit she’s wearing? Where did she buy it? They’re good Catholics…”

“No, I don’t know where he is; try the Montgomery operator. Come on down to the office, we’ll have a look at it. A baby? What did I get myself into?”

“He’s a great man. Lots of fun. Spoiled rotten. A good sense of humor. He’s a worrywart, just like his mother.”

“A girl is unfortunate if she’s not going to be married after high school?! What?! You are only a successful girl-woman if you are married and have children right after high school. What?You’d better be good at doing the farm chores, cooking, cleaning, raising the kids.”

You become adept at the social niceties of life in a small town. You nurture friendships. You learn to budget. You love life, your family, your friends. (That darn cooking thing..) You cultivate your talents – your innate charm, creativity. Whew!

That big ball in your stomach arrives, thank goodness, not early. Wouldn’t that start the tongues a-wagging! Many prayers are answered that day. A happy, healthy child.

And it goes on and on with many experiences of love, laughter, challenges, growth… Yep, that’s her – something else.




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