caring for our work

Flatback-turtle-climbing-up-beach-to-lay-eggsPeriodically in our work outside prison, we hold what has come to be called ‘Care of our Container’ sessions. In these, we take a half hour or so to ask participants in the group three broad questions about what has been working; what has not been working; and what can we do to improve the experience for everyone? While the wording changes, the essence of the exercise is a months-long overview version of our weekly check-in about the gifts and challenges of that evening’s circle.

One might assume that in prison, where attendance is at best sporadic even in a weekly group that is well into its seventh year of operation, this kind of exercise might prove futile. On the contrary. Based on the reception and feedback to last week’s Care of Container session, we realize that such feedback sessions are equally important inside as out. Perhaps more so.

Everyone was invited to weigh in with anonymous personal opinion. Then facilitators and assistants, having collected the comments, read them aloud for all to hear. And what they heard were affirmations of why they attend; confirmation that some things needed to be addressed; and above all, the invitation to continue co-creating the group to honor the whole above any single individual.

Because we opened with  ‘The Turtle’ by Mary Oliver, the phrasing of our questions reflected the poem’s words. To wit:

  1. what does it mean to you to be part of this class ‘pond’?
  2. what ‘unbreakable strings’ bring you to it, keep you safely grounded here?
  3. what apparent blindness in our writing class ‘world’ has challenged you?

Read a sampling from the dozen writers present to get a sense of just what brings them to the group, and what they want to see addressed going forward. NOTE: we have already introduced new agreements and some changes to the way we open the class. Stay tuned for the next ‘Care of Container’ session in a few months to see how well we have co-created a safer container for all concerned.

Care of Container cards:

  1. what does it mean to you to be part of this class ‘pond’?
  • A time to get away and let my mind think.
  • To be a part of the class pond means we are all part of an individual struggle.
  • The courage to speak my words.
  • I come to this class to explore writing.
  • I love this group because it’s soothing and gives us time to read poems as well as put our feelings on paper.
  • It means to be a part of a whole.
  • It gives me free will and a choice to be a part of another’s words, thoughts and innermost challenges/fears/identity.
  • It means peace, ritual, safety, respect.
  • The group shows me the transformative power of writing.
  1. what ‘unbreakable strings’ bring you to it, keep you safely grounded here?
  • Respect for the class and its creative founders keeps me coming.
  • The things that bring me to this group are the peaceful atmosphere; the ritual of it – things we do each time we come together; the safety that allows for us to feel comfortable enough to let go and share our art and writings; the importance of respect for all involved.
  • Trust, openness to be respectful of my views and feelings; a safe place to share.
  • The rules of careful and active listening are the unbreakable strings that bind this group.What I say here stays here.
  • Amazing teachers, structure, a good place to be to help me forget I am in jail, being able to use my feelings and words to compose them into a beautiful poem.
  • The love I feel during this group is an unbreakable string for me.
  • What keeps me safe is confidentiality and knowing our words won’t go beyond these walls unless we want them to. The ability to see through my weaknesses and to remain calm at all times. I feel this writing class has helped me to discover who I truly am through my expression of words.
  • I feel welcomed.
  • Writing is one of my coping mechanisms.
  1. what apparent blindness in our writing class ‘world’ has challenged you?
  • Walk through fear and share when I feel like I don’t want to.
  • Large groups are challenging to me.
  • What has challenged me is to not be judgmental.
  • Having to sit with people I don’t care for is challenging for me.
  • People coming for all the wrong reasons, talking during our time.
  • The challenges of this writing class are to protect the space that is respectful and supportive.
  • Disregard of the Circle Agreements makes it hard to share within a space that feels broken and not focused. The challenge of another’s commitment.
  • Negative change, disturbance that it may not be as valued by some as it is to most.
  • Being blind to all but the moment and the writing is a challenge.

2 thoughts on “caring for our work

    • sarahwbartlett says:

      When we do semester-long groups on the ‘outside,’ we do Care of Container about halfway through. Since we do monthly themes and quarterly anthologies ‘inside,’ I think we’ll start doing Care of Container quarterly. Feels like a good time to check in and update as a group, not just as facilitators do weekly. It is a very useful practice. Generally we have women write their comments; and then circulate them so everyone is reading someone else’s. However we were concerned, with the women living in such close quarters, that they might recognize one another’s writing. So we told them before giving the prompts that facilitators would be reading them; and in any event, they are completely anonymous. Good luck! I’d love to hear how it works for you. If you want any additional ideas or guidelines as to how we’ve done this over the years, feel free to contact me 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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