This past Thursday evening was our semi-annual reading inside the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility where all incarcerated women in Vermont are housed. We had over 40 guests, at least half of them from the outside community. These included leaders in criminal justice reform, publicists, providers in re-entry programming, mentors to our writers, volunteers, DOC personnel, writing inside VT advisory board members and assistants, and friends.
The evening was nothing short of magical, in the words of one first-time reading attendee. Feedback included so many supportive and surprised responses, like these:
Feelings of hope and words of self-love and acceptance are rising up for me; images of these women as only criminals are falling away. They are humans.
What a waste to lock away these minds, these hearts, these words! What is falling away from me is who I thought was in the room as opposed to who was really there.
I never even began to imagine a lot of the realness that was within these women. Maybe they aren’t so bad after all.
These women have been through such a journey. Perhaps the ideas that separate us are not so great after all.
I’m struck by how much beauty and wisdom there is in the readings tonight.
A particularly poignant moment occurred when one of our long-time writers spoke from her heart at the end of the evening. She thanked everyone for caring enough to come, to listen, to give the writers confidence that their stories, indeed their lives, matter. She composed a poem of gratitude on the spot which we anticipate will appear in local press within the week. Be sure to watch for the link!
We book-ended the readings with two ‘found’ poems, created from the two most recent writing groups. They were titled, respectively, ‘You Can’t Tell Who I’ve Become’ and ‘How to Make Joy.’ After the reading, I created one more ‘found’ poem woven from words read that evening.
Hopefully you can glean some sense of the power of the evening by these few remarks. Look elsewhere on this site for more information about our recent partnership with South Burlington Community Justice Center; as well as more fall happenings.
DOING THE RIGHT THING ANYWAY
I kept taking and taking –
that is what I woke for –
to shake the cold from my skin,
oppression against my bones.
It is lonely out there
if you don’t believe in yourself.
Failing as a mother,
the flaws that define me –
I want to pray it away.
Why didn’t I make my own choices?
I said no and my stomach growled in starvation.
No one gets the sweet without the sour.
We’re supposed to move unnoticed,
always silent because you don’t like the noise.
I’ve been robbed of my identity,
an unrecognizable version of me
stripped of every variation of self-expression.
Mother of darkness,
helping you is hurting me.
I’d rather crawl on my own than walk with you.
I don’t want to be enlivened by old ghosts.
I need to depend on ME,
the sole motivation to keep my heart beating.
I need a hug
warm with self-love.
I will not be sad to be alone
out the garden gate,
the energy of her wisdom in my veins.
I’ve conquered fear,
a blur of words and color
so many layers to peel back.
Hold your fear and crush it with the palm of your hand.
We all have the right to pancakes, butter and real maple syrup.