hope

“Life is a constant Advent season: we are continually waiting to become, to discover, to complete, to fulfill. Hope, struggle, fear, expectation and fulfillment are all part of our Advent experience.”

As we enter the season of Advent, there is little to cheer on women incarcerated at Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility. Waiting and preparation are what their time is made of; and for many of them, the hope that originally wove through the fabric of time has simply worn thin.

Holidays can be a particularly tough time inside, as they remind us of family closeness and the warmth of special traditions. Yet in spite of all that seems to separate us from one another, our weekly opportunity to sit together, pen our thoughts and share them openly brings a measure of relief, of closeness … even of hope.

A sampling of the writing from this week follows, written by the artists whose work appears above:

HOPE

Hope has no goddamned wings. Perhaps she had them once, a shining Christmas angel full-feathered. Now she staggers wet cobblestones dripping bloody stumps, stray feathers mutilated with her blood. She weeps and wails, sorry for herself or sorry for me. Hope has no goddamned wings. She doesn’t wear a sparkling samite sheath. She wears tattered rags, too worn and stained to be black, too mottled to be gray. Her muddy petticoat bares torn lace, my Freudian slip showing. Hope has no goddamned wings. Her feet bleed with every halting step, the mean and bitter earth cutting and snatching, tearing and rending tender, once-pristine feet. Hope has no goddamned wings. She was shot down long ago, if she ever flew at all on wings made of the dreams of fools. Hope has no goddamned wings. I’ve never seen her face shining with holy light, only wet with sweat and tears, folded like a Japanese fan with effort. Hope has no goddamned wings. She doesn’t sing a victory tune. She compels me on with a fucking dirge – mine – if I don’t work harder, faster, longer, better … mine, if I’m lucky. Hope has no goddamned wings.

MR

***

Continue reading

waiting

AG

artwork by AG

At this time of year, there is so much waiting. Waiting for winter to end. Waiting for the first signs of spring. Waiting for spring to stay around long enough to enjoy. Waiting to shake off those winter blues. Waiting to feel better. Waiting to hear what the courts have to say. Waiting to go home.

Inside or out, waiting feels the same. It is mixed with memory, with apprehension, with love and despair. It comes in waves, sits like a boulder, dissipates vapor-like before us. Waiting holds all the weight of its negativity. Even joyful waiting can feel heavy because time slows down to such a painful, slow pace.

Although waiting was not the topic of any recent writing, the weight of time has seeped through many recent writings. Regret for past actions and waiting for time to set them right. Feeling that no matter how hard we try, things don’t change. Hoping against hope for love to buoy us up. Perhaps above all, the inside writing these days has a heaviness to it in contrast to the increasing light outside, the birdsong and sun and emerging color that lift spirits that live in them. Another reminder of the stark reality of ‘life’ behind concrete windowless walls.

PARACHUTE
make a parachute out of everything broken …

Down a long dark hallway
there’s a door.
To an average eye it’s just a door.
Behind the door lies a bedroom.
Punished, forced to stay.
Where to hide.
There isn’t enough hours in the day.
Her mother’s always distraught.
Her father’s at work.
There’s noone there to see the hurt.
In that very bedroom, dark shadows arise.
And curled up in her closet
the lonely girl cries.
She wants to run but it’s never worked before.
But if she stays, then
the pain will come so much more.
When she asks for help,
scolding is obtained.
For it’s only a lie and
the boy is being framed.
Sneak out your window, she’ll
give it one more try.
Too scared of the dark,
she can’t run, only cry.
Only 13, what can she do
when everything is broken.
Then the wind blew.
She climbs onto the roof from the woodpile first,
her heart beating so fact she swears it might burst.
If she was a bird, she’d just fly away.
But she couldn’t leave for five more years that May.
She dreamt of her pain and all she had felt
and wished she could charge her stars as she stared at Orion’s belt.
A parachute from her broken dreams, raised on a broken heart.
But one day she’d land and get a fresh start.
DB

***

Now what do you want to do about it?
Well, my first reaction to my pent-up frustration is to argue and stand up for myself. But then I remind myself how close I am to leaving this place. And also I came here alone, and I’ll leave alone, even though I did end up with a couple people I think I can call my friends. I knew I was going to hate coming to jail and being confined. But I didn’t think about all the different personalities under one roof. That alone can drive someone crazy. But mixed together with all aspects of jail life is definitely not a place I want to keep coming back too. I feel as though I am being tested on a daily basis on skills I have learned while being here. I can proudly say “I’m winning, not getting a rise or reaction out of me” All I want is to live a happy life out in the real world. Surrounded by people that genuinely care about me and enjoy my company. At the end of the say, it’s just me I need to worry about, making the right decisions to get me out the doors to a better life.
KT

***

MY HEART TONIGHT – TIME FOR CHANGE
My heart was once full,
I felt so complete.
I was filled with so much love,
I never skipped a beat.
Now my heart is broken,
and I feel so empty.
My insides are screaming,
someone please come and help me.
So much has happened in the past few years
from joy and happiness
to heartbreak and tears.
From working to not,
my kids here and then gone.
It seems like a lot,
and I’m not even done.
I’ve changed so much,
more than I ever thought I could.
I hate the direction I’m going –
it has done me no good.
So here’s where I stop
and turn my life around
before it’s too late
and I end up in the ground!
FH

untangling peace

artwork from our writers

artwork from our writers

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Beauty is when you can appreciate yourself. When you love yourself, that’s when you’re most beautiful. – Zoe Kravitz

All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt. – Charles M. Schulz

 

LOVE AFTER LOVE
Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

At the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility, we have a few different jobs. One is facilitator, one is writing instructor, and another is a support figure. We hope, when we go in an share our experiences through writing, that writers and facilitators alike get a sense of calm and a needed break from the prison environment and/or the business of our lives. We also hope that they skills we practice in group are practices we take out of group and use to take care of ourselves when we’re not together. 

This week, we welcomed my mother and certified Zen Tangle instructor, Catherine Reynolds into our circle to share her skills with us. Zen Tangle is a meditative drawing practice originated by artist and buddhist practitioner Maria Thomas and Rick Roberts. The practice uses repetitive patterns to create woven images. The process is equally as important as the product – an often beautiful, black and white, pen and ink, nonrepresentational drawing. The hope is that the person holding the pen loses themselves in the process of drawing and finds peace in exploring the lines.

Another important tenant of Zen Tangle is that there are no mistakes. Whatever line a practitioner makes is woven in and becomes an opportunity for the piece to guide and surprise itself. Our writers described the process as both stressful and then calming. They were excited by each pattern and how each line organically brought their drawing into being. It was one of our most lively groups but in the end, everyone felt they had made and learned something entirely new.

The philosophies espoused in Zen Tangle are the same as those we use in our writing. As a practice, we lose ourselves in the marks on the page, letting them guide us as much as we guide them. The piece above is a cluster of the writer’s drawings from our shared experience. The tiles, when joined together, represent a unique moment in time and in art that we shared and each collaboratively created. We read the poem and quotes above to begin our night then lost ourselves in the tangle of lines we created, lovingly, for ourselves and each other.

 

finding the soft

“You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” – Mary Oliver, ‘Wild Geese’

“Doing what you love isn’t a privilege; it’s an obligation. Find out what you love.
Do it because you love it. Stick with it. Start now.”   ― Barbara Sher

In the past week and before, there has been far more talk of hate and anger than of love. Even inside prison, the mood has been quashed lower than normal. It can seem as if there is nothing to look forward to, nothing to strive for.

This is one of the reasons we like to bring art materials in on a regular basis. Whatever else may be roiling in the minds or across the floors of the units, art always elevates the mood, centers the focus, grounds the chaos. Of course, we also write – and the words this week were no less powerful than usual. Haunting phrases hang still in the air even days later:

but everything she’s ever loved has all ways been all wrong …  In her world there is no place to love … she loves in darkness …’

Your interests and beauty marks have a long story to tell, all those scars and broken bones from all the times you fell’

‘Love is scary. My vulnerability, the unknown. Trust, something that’s been broken so many times.’

‘Let me soften your burden. Let softness rule, OK?’

If I could do one thing, I would scream so that I know you could hear me and tell you that I’m still here. You know, just in case you forgot.’

But the art! Using pages from various of Deborah Koff-Chapin’s new Soul Touch coloring books, each woman’s need to love, to connect with the soft or hard edges within, to express light and dark in stark and direct terms came pouring forth. To honor this experience, I have chosen to create a gallery of their work for you to witness, as we did. See what calls to you, where you find the soft.