star at the heart of things

ethel pochocki

ethel pochocki

In late October 2015 we opened a circle at Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility with a poem by Ethel Pochocki called “The Star at the Heart of Things.” Shortly thereafter,  I posted the piece of artwork I had done in that group, with its associated writing, on my personal blog.

Then, about six weeks later, I received this note:

I was pleasantly surprised when I came across your blog using my mother’s (Ethel Pochocki) work (“The Star at the Heart of Things”) with your writing group work with incarcerated women.  As Executor of her Estate, I occasionally Google her name to be sure her work isn’t being used in a negative light and/or without permission.  Not to worry;  my mom would be honored and humbled that her work was used as the opening poem for the group.  She passed away five years ago, and these moments when I find or hear of her work inspiring others, are moments of grace in my grief.  Thank you.  Rosemary.

To which I replied:

I was so moved by your taking the time to write to me that I am sending you a small token of gratitude – for you, your mother, the work that comes from this kind of cross-fertilizaiton.

The October evening under discussion, when we opened with ‘The Star at the Heart of Things,’ we also invited women to make art with string-and-ink, followed by pastel to highlight what they ‘saw’ in the string images. Then, writing. 

I selected three writings from that evening, accompanied by the artwork, so you could get a sense of some of the directions your mother’s words prompted.

And again, thank you so much for your kind words and for reaching out to me. 

These moments of grace are rare enough. It was an honor to be able to respond. And in turn, to be able to share the entire episode here, with you.

grateful days

VI holiday card

artwork by assistant victoria irwin from 11/19/15 group

We have so much to be thankful for, even though it may not always appear thus. Both inside and out, for instance, this year has brought an abundance of support for writing inside VT.

Our first-ever individual appeal has almost hit its target of $6000 toward our annual operating expenses, the balance of which will be sought in grants. We are so very grateful for your belief in our work and your financial support to continue it into our seventh year.

We have added an advisory board of seven wise and thoughtful women who bring a breadth and depth of experience and passion to guiding us forward.

We have increased our facilitation team by two assistants and a guest facilitator.

Most of all, we have managed to continue to hold weekly writing groups inside Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in South Burlington, VT — despite a hiatus in funding support and several personal issues that have taken some of us out of the picture for periods of time this fall.

Inside, the inmates have continued to produce soul-searching writing and artwork; and are even contemplating a new book of their work. It seems everywhere leaders are emerging and creativity is blossoming.

May the coming year bring its own abundance and unity to you, in your heart, your life, your work and your world community.

please support our pieces!

SH

We need YOUR help to reach our first-ever fundraising goal of $6000 from individuals. Holly Miller of our Advisory Group has led the way with a generous gift of $2500. One supporter like you will match the next $1500 raised, dollar-for-dollar, by 12/31/15. With your help, we can make the last third of that challenge by year’s end.

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YOU CAN HELP create change because opportunity can turn a life around. Your gift will help us provide:

  • 56 weeks, or 84 hours of skill-, confidence- and community-building among Vermont’s female inmates
  • weekly story sharing to educate the community about issues and impact of prison
  • four printed anthologies of writing for participants and local distribution
  • public readings by released women
  • team training to maintain the program’s integrity and uniqueness

My inner confidence and self esteem emerged before me tonight. I always end this group with more understanding of my potential.” – SH

Continue reading

new article published about our work!

photo of Sarah W. Bartlett

Sarah W. Bartlett at book launch of HEAR ME, SEE ME

Just posted in Chrysalis: The Journal of Transformative Language Arts, a comprehensive piece about writing inside VT by Director/Founder Sarah W. Bartlett.

The title, “I am who I was, but so much more” is a direct quote from one of the attendants at the 2013 book launch of HEAR ME, SEE ME: Incarcerated Women Write, which speaks to the powerful impact the incarcerated women’s raw stories had on an audience member. Hers was one of many similarly phrased comments: hearing these women’s stories and seeing the women in person made a profound impression.

The piece is long and comprehensive, and will form the basis of the keynote talk and workshop to be led by Sarah at the October 2016 PA Conference of Teachers of English Language Arts.

Please feel free to share the piece, as well as your comments on it, below and elsewhere (our Facebook page, for instance). And thank you for your time!

to the women out there

cover image of woman with wings

credit – CD cover

During our ‘outside’ writing group this past week, I found myself penning a note to all those women who have written with writing inside VT over the past five years. Perhaps that’s because it’s an anniversary of sorts, as the outside program builds upon the inside one. Perhaps because the evening’s opening poem brought the image of women with wings to mind. Perhaps because in this season, as we begin to turn once again to budding renewal, I think of each woman whose words penned in our circles brought new possibilities to light.

I want to dedicate this post to the more than 200 women who have sat in the writing circle with us since January 2010 – whether once or weekly, whether inside or out today. Your words, your presence, your courage have made a difference to one another, and to each of us. May you continue to speak your truths and seek their expression as you return to/create your ways into the future.

TO THE WOMEN OUT THERE
who wrote with me inside

Feel your wings
rising on the wind
spread strong to support
your inmost intentions

Feel your wings
flutter and flap, testing
the air you enter, the earth
to which you return

Feel your wings
fueled by time
and opportunity
outstretched in offering

Feel your wings
whisper the moon’s waxings
and wanings in hushed shadow
and full-circle brilliance

Feel your wings
fold neatly in prayer
and supplication to the power
of your beliefs

Feel your wings
spill words like petals
shaken from the bloom
soft and redolent

Feel your wings
their echoed flight
resonant still
in the hollows of our hearts

Feel your wings
parse their rhythm
to send you
well on your way

Feel your wings
the staccato and flow
of upbeat and down
following your harmonies home

swb
2-3-15