it’s official…

is in press!

This project has been in the works for nearly two years. Following the success of “Hear Me, See Me: Incarcerated Women Write” (Orbis Books, 2013), co-edited by myself and Marybeth Redmond, our writers inside have repeatedly requested a second publication. Not only for the validation of seeing their words in print; or the validation of being read outside the walls; or even the prospect of sharing their words in person if they were released by the time of the launch.

Their ongoing motivation has been to voice change to a system that no longer serves the needs or goals of its current population. Clearly, not all the onus lies with the correctional system – there are challenges aplenty with addiction treatment and mental health services more broadly, and clearly better coordination, definition and availability apply to both. Nonetheless, corrections is where these writers of ours currently reside. This is the system they must navigate, survive, recover from. In addition to all the other issues they are facing due to the reason(s) for their incarceration in the first place.

The creation of “Life Lines: Re-Writing Lives from Inside Out” has, like the proverbial successful rearing of a child, been a true community effort. Of course, the writers themselves, with their passion, dedication to attending writinginsideVT circles, and honesty about themselves are the foundation on which it all began.

VT College of Fine Arts provided us an intern for a full year! Bianca Vinas joined us as a fabulously sensitive ‘outside’ reader of works from writers she had never met, assuring that the works chosen would carry the strongest message. Kassie Tibbott, Esq, newly-minted from VT Law School and ongoing assistant to the writing became researcher par excellance to gather facts, keep us organized, and provide a sounding board for our overall planning down to specific details. Meg Reynolds, long-time wiVT co-director, poet and artist, thoughtfully provided ink drawings that defined the five sections of “Life Lines.”

Now we have an April 12 launch date to look forward to and hope to see you there!

brewing empowerment

cups of coffeeAs promised, here is more from the UVM students who are, this week, starting their four-week pop-up venture on behalf of writinginsideVT.

They very kindly shared their Business Plan with me and gave permission to share it here. Excerpts follow:

Company Description
Brewing Empowerment is comprised of 10 UVM students who are creating a pop-up social enterprise. Our main goal is to make a profit through selling coffee and stickers to donate to “Writing Inside Vermont.” This non-profit works with women who are incarcerated in Vermont and gives them an outlet to express themselves through poetry and stories. We chose this group because we feel their message is powerful and one that needs to be shared. Often when people are incarcerated they become dehumanized and lose a sense of who they are. What brought our group together was that we all had an interest in gender equality and empowering women. This non-profit aligns with our groups goals of empowering these women. The name of our group not only goes with what we are selling but it goes with our main message. We want to empower these women by sharing their stories and their past experiences to make other UVM students and faculty members open their eyes and hearts and not make anybody feel they don’t matter, regardless of their situation.

 

Executive Summary
Brewing Empowerment is our pop-up social enterprise. We will be selling coffee and stickers, to donate our profits to “Writing Inside Vermont.” This non-profit works with women who are incarcerated in Vermont and provides them an outlet for their voices and words to be heard. Our group not only wants to donate to this non-profit but we want them to be known throughout campus for years to come. This is why we chose to sell stickers which will last beyond this pop-up. Our target audience will be students, professors and friends who want to spread awareness of the amazing work this non-profit does.  

Mission Statement
Brewing Empowerment is dedicated to spreading the words of these powerful women whose voices deserve to be heard. Often women behind bars are not given the validation that they matter or that they even exist. We are working to remove this stigma and echo their words throughout UVM’s campus.

Product Description:
Brewing Empowerment will be selling both coffee and stickers. Students on the University of Vermont campus are constantly buying and drinking coffee to fuel them through their long days and hefty amounts of work. With that said, Brewing Empowerment will sell great quality coffee at a reasonably low price outside the Bailey/Howe Library in hopes of attracting the business of hustling, working students. Our coffee cups will have quotes from the women’s poetry on them, to achieve our mission to remove the stigma from incarcerated women.Fortunately our group received kind donations from businesses scattered throughout the Burlington area, so we are able to kickstart our business at almost no cost. Hannaford Supermarket supplied us with a $20 gift card in which we will purchase coffee grinds and cups. Similarly, City Market was generous enough to donate a $20 gift card with which we will obtain cream, milk, and sugar. Lastly, Sodexo has agreed to supply us with holders(creamers) for cream and milk, endless ice, and a tub/bucket to hold the ice. With all that said we will charge $2 per cup of coffee.

In addition to coffee we will be selling stickers. Students around the University of Vermont campus love collecting stickers and displaying them on their reusable water bottles or laptops. We will capitalize on this trend and sell stickers alongside coffee. The stickers will include quotes from and art drawn by women involved in the Writing Inside Vermont program. With the $10 allotted to our group we will purchase sticker paper from Amazon and print out designs with the art and poetry incorporated. These stickers will then be sold for $2.

voice on the inside

Pinterest

Amendment I Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Free expression is the base of human rights, the root of human nature and the mother of truth. To kill free speech is to insult human rights, to stifle human nature and to suppress truth. – Liu Xiaobo

Amendment XIX. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

We continued to explore women’s history month and notions of freedom this week through the poetry of poet/activist Audre Lorde, the words of activist, critic, and writer Liu Xiaobo, the story of suffragette Susan B. Anthony, and amendments of the constitution guaranteeing free speech and voting rights for women. We are no longer in election season but using writing as a tool for expression and self-exploration is a continuous political practice and exercise of our rights. We take the time to examine our thinking and tell our story as a method of connecting to one another as well as a way to link our needs as human to our rights as citizens. 

In the pieces below you’ll see the candid reflections of the writers inside. I will let their words speak for themselves.

SAVIOR OF THE SURVIVOR

My mother’s name is Dawn. 
She is the woman who inspires me.
Change and love is what she has shown me.
We don’t always get along.
We have hurt each other.
Finally she realizes what life is like without me,
after I had a mental breakdown that
almost killed me,
she stood up in front of cameras
on a path to defend me,
showing me she loves me.
She gave me hope,
shined a light on this depression that seems
to haunt me,
a little hope was all I need.
I was surprised she did all that she did for me.
She gave me hope that someone in this earth loves me.
I haven’t cut in two weeks.
She is my mother, my hero.
She saves me from the agony others watched drown me.
She is my mother,
I am her daughter.
No corrupt judge is going to keep us apart.
There is only one truth:
That I still belong to you!
For a relationship that was broken.
Proof all broken things heal in time!

KS

***
“WE WERE NEVER MEANT TO SURVIVE” Continue reading

love is

susan-arnsten-russell-twofer-copy

touch drawing by Susan Arnsten-Russell

What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.
Helen Keller

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. – Dalai Lama

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.
– Jack Layton

For the month of February we have been exploring different aspects of love in writing and image. This past week, we offered as opening poem ‘What she loves’ by Judith Sternbergh. Its four sections start with the following lines, in order: Here is what she loves deeply … Here is what she loves but one removed … Here is what she loves with an embarrassing relish … Here is what she needs and keeps her. Some writers used these same headings for four-part writings of their own. Others found themselves pulled by words from an epigraph. Or simply riffed on love, a word able to elicit endless responses as varied as the women writing them. This past week, the darker side of love sought or lost permeated most of the writing.

IS THIS LOVE?

I often wonder, is this love? I think it is, but I can’t express it. Or when I do, it comes out in anger or frustration, often hurting the one person I don’t want to. Why do I do this? Well, it’s the only way I know how, the way showed to me growing up. I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to change this way of thinking what love is. But this girl makes me want to. She is my rock when I fall, my shoulder when I’m sad, and the love I need, and have longed for, for a long time. I know I’m capable of loving someone if I let down the walls I’ve built. However, scared of being vulnerable leaves me frozen where I stand, not wanting to. I’m confused, left with the worry and doubt in my head. Would I still be the person she knows if I do let down my exterior wall? or will I be so different she leaves me, abandoned, like I’m so used to? I don’t know for sure. But I do know being stripped away of her would just damage me more, leaving me helpless again to my own misery. Ths misery I create so well. All I can do is try and pray for the best in any situation I put myself in regardless the outcome. I’m just scared.
DB

***

PERFECT BROKEN ANGELS

Love and compassion is something I tend to give too often.
It is never reciprocated.
So why do  I give it to begin with?
I walk a lonely road,
lover of all forsaken angels, always trying to save
them from emotional bloodshed.
Continue reading

who I’ve become

10-6-mandalas_0010-copyThis 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! Continue reading