Writing inside prison presents an interesting paradox. On the one hand, we want to provide meaningful experiences. The opportunity to go deep, to find new ways to approach old patterns of thought and response. The chance for what is good and strong in each of us to be validated; and for the damage we have suffered or imposed on others to be understood. We seek context and we receive a framework in which to rebuild. We seek tools so we can do the building with integrity and accountability.
On the other hand, weekly predictability and routine are highly valued in an otherwise chaotic environment. This is not to say each week is a repeat of the last. No one would ever want to take part in such a group! But it does mean that, within the familiar structure and sequence of a group, we change up the activities from time to time. We add in visual art as a way to access the depth of feeling sometimes unreachable in words. And we challenge the ways in which we write. Trying out different genres and formats, of course; but also working solo or in pairs or groups.
Last week each woman chose a line, question or phrase about which she wanted others in the circle to weigh in. The question was written at the bottom of the page. Then we passed each paper to the left, responding with a line at the top of the page. After each woman had responded to the first prompt,she folded back the paper and passed it to the left again. Now each one was responding to a new one-line prompt but without seeing the response before hers. We continued in this way until the papers returned to the original prompter, at which point each one responded to her own prompt.
We then opened up the papers and shared our collaborative poems. Given that each of us essentially responded blindly to one line with one line, the cohesiveness of the results are remarkable. Please also note: these are presented in the order the lines were written. No edits. More proof of the strength found in words.
WHEN YOU START A JOURNEY, WHERE WOULD YOU BEGIN?
My journey starts with you,
with my intentions to be present, open-hearted and smart.
Finding my voice within
I would begin in a place pure and new —
on a mountain;
in the darkest woods with tall trees all around
whenever my feet are resting.
At the moment of inception.
WHEN I DIDN’T UNDERSTAND MY SURROUNDINGS
I got nervous and scared.
I couldn’t see clearly, my mind became clouded.
I felt alone and cried a lot. When will this feeling end?
I looked to see how others were responding
because you might not have much faith.
I became someone I didn’t want to know.
I started to think of where I came from.
I listened for stories about parrots that I could repeat.
A NEW BEGINNING
For me is a bloody mess.
A fresh start
leads to a new, but ultimate, ending.
I can’t wait to go outside, breathe some fresh air
and walk in the sunshine;
a mixed blessing of potential and change, fear and hope.
A time to reflect
trusting in God’s will for me.