synthesis – part 2

As mentioned in the previous post, we created visual mosaics after our writing last session. The invitation was to consider placing the visual within a large circle to indicate the sense of the moment, as a mandala does.

Our materials were simple: torn pieces of bright-colored magazine pictures of landscapes, animals, sunsets, black-and-white trees — plus shreds of bright tissue papers. It is always surprising to see the range of products from similar materials, as well as the variation in feeling that can be created from such simple materials.

The few images below capture some of the intensity and mood variations around the table that night. Please do enjoy them.

the boy from Troy

by Brenda Ann Kenneally

This TIME photo essay (44 pics) is too important not to see.  It’s heart-wrenching to watch however, so prepare yourself.

Photojournalist Brenda Ann Kenneally captures the life of Donny, from birth to age 8.  He lives with his young mother Kayla in multi-generational poverty in Troy, N.Y., not far from where Kenneally grew up.”

The Boy from Troy is important to watch because it:

• mirrors the childhoods of most of the incarcerated women we write ‘inside’ with each week

• mirrors the adult experiences of these women as mothers

• documents the “cradle to prison pipeline” many children are trapped within

• demonstrates the lack of parenting, economic resources, education, nutritional foods, mentors, exposure to nature, self-responsibility (and on and on) that comes with impoverishment.

This photo essay reminds me of the fragile beings we accompany week-to-week, and the complexity of social issues that converge to create these predicaments.  It also reinforces how difficult it is to break out of the cycle of multi-generational poverty.  As has been said many times before, “there but for the grace of God, go I.”

blessings on your way

One of our veteran writers is leaving prison.  NL has served her time and new life awaits.           

She has written faithfully with writinginsideVT since the program began 2-1/2 years ago.  We have witnessed great changes, including her expanding self-awareness and compassion for others.  Sarah and I take a wee bit of credit for introducing NL to the power of writing.  But, it has been her regular discipline of going within to write and reclaim her life that has made the difference.  She would agree.

Through laughter and tears this week, the circle of women-writers offered NL blessings on her way…

I wish for you…bravery, with the acceptance of fear; leven when no one is near; love and family togetherness; everything you deserve, including tenderness.

I want you to take every bit of anger you had while you were in this situation and accept it, putting it to good use for the betterment of your self being.  Accept!  Move forward!

I want to send you off with this mirror (a circle drawn) that shows a beautiful, courageous, wise woman..a compassionate listener..a sturdy anchor.  See yourself as you are–whole, holy, perfect.

Always stop and smell the roses…even the fake ones!

We are hopeful that NL will rejoin our writing circle, now ‘outside’ prison walls.  Blessings on your way, dear one.

when worlds collide

I’m a guest commentator on Vermont Public Radio…and frequently, my commentaries are about the incarcerated women I write-inside with on Thursday nights.

As VPR’s annual commentator luncheon approaches, I had the opportunity to submit a short snippet on the theme, “When Worlds Collide.”  I wrote this piece about MG who inspired me one recent writing evening.  She’s ‘outside’ now..and I wish her Godspeed.  I’ll read this piece at the VPR luncheon on May 19.

This night, my writing circle fans out wider than usual.  Twenty-five chairs, arrayed under fluorescent lights, form more of an oval than a circle. 

Women of all ages trickle through the steel door.  Some are dressed in haphazard sweats and tees; others, put together in cords and clogs.  Tonight is “Read-Around Night,” an event for guests ‘outside’ Chittenden Correctional Facility to come ‘inside’ and listen to the writings of these incarcerated women.

The co-mingling of these two diverse worlds often yields something unexpected.

Mimi, as I’ll call her, has been baking in the prison kitchen.  Assigned to refreshment duty for the event, this 20-something has prepared mammoth chocolate chip cookies.  She enters the room and slips a waxed-paper envelope into my hands.  Inside she’s tucked two warm dark chocolate chip cookies, apparently her top-shelf stash.  “For your son,” she insists.  “Put ‘em away so no one sees ‘em.”

The reading of words begins.  Trembling hands clutch bound anthologies as the images and insights contained therein bless listeners’ ears.

Across the circle from Mimi sits her look-alike sister.  Earlier in the hallway, I have encouraged ‘Older Sister’ to attend.  “Come-on,” I say to her, “be there for your Sis.”  Now, Older Sister perches on her seat, her slender frame wracked with anxiety.

Mimi reads in a steady voice: “To be in this world means to suffer,” she begins, “although that suffering is a voyage, and if you learn from it, making yourself stronger and smarter, you become a soldier.” Her words take on new significance.  Just that evening, a correctional officer has revealed to me that Mimi’s father got her using drugs as a child.

The Read-Around concludes and dessert is uncovered.  Incarcerated women scurry to the spread, groping for cookies.  Some stuff their clothes with two, five, too many sweets to count.  ..contraband to take back to their units. 

Mimi tries to interrupt the madness without success.  Her light-blue eyes flash both sadness and rage: “It was a classy night,” she exclaims, “something real and special, but they ruined it acting like typical inmates.”  I hear her sense of loss, but am inspired by her yearning for one dignified moment beyond this prison world.

my relationship to earth

Happy Earth Day, friends!

Wendell Berry’s poetry blessed the opening of our writing circle this week.  Then, the ‘inside’ women wrote about their relationships to earth, to circles, and to growing trees.

Here’s a lovely piece in which one writer recalled an ‘a-ha moment’ in a pine forest:

As I walk through these woods, I first think I am alone. Yet, there is so much I see and hear all at once.  I take a couple of steps back, feeling as if I have invaded a secret place, a special place. I look up and see the sunlight breaking through the dense pine trees, splashing rays of light at my feet. I look to my left and see a shallow stream flowing over smooth rocks. ..the wind gently blowing and swaying pine boughs. I wonder, do I dare walk over to that fallen tree and take a seat? I try to be silent in my steps, to go and sit peacefully. I close my eyes as I sit, and I can smell the pine. I can hear the stream moving along. As I open my eyes, I realize I am not trespassing on someone else’s woods.  I am part of this special place. I know my heart beats like the pulsing of these woods.