gemini ink conference

“Gemini Ink believes in the vital role creative writing can play in an individual’s life and personal development. Our writing classes are open to everyone. Whether the last thing you wrote was a poem in high school or you are a published emerging author, we provide a warm supportive writing community and the opportunity to develop your skills.” – from the geminiink website

Over the weekend of July 21-23rd, we were lucky to head to San Antonio, TX to present a panel on our shared work at writinginsideVT. To prepare for the conference and to ensure that all the writers of writinginside were heard the panel, while inside with our writers, we wrote a shared letter to the panel at geminiink. Below, you will read the exchange between the panel and our writing circle. First is the letter to the panel and last are the notes each audience member wrote in reply. As a side note, I shared the notes from the audience with our writing  circle this week and they were thrilled to hear the well of support they received from the audience at Geminiink. Thank you, Geminiink, for the opportunity to share our work and words with San Antonio!

writinginsideVT writers to the panel: 

To Whom It May Concern: this group has given me a way to relive some of my most darkest feelings through a healthy way. It has helped make a significant difference in my life. I no longer cut myself as a way to relieve stress. So poetry and this class has offered me a positive outlet!

My experience: being incarcerated, I am confined. Constantly controlled. Always being told what to do. Forever wearing a porcelain mask painted with a fake smile on it. Not able to be myself. Being treated like a rabid, caged animal.

During writing inside, I am a woman. I am a mother, a free-spirit. I have views and opinions that I can freely express without fear of judgment or reprimand. During writing inside, I am me. I can be myself and wear a true smile on my face.

How I grew from this circle: My experience has helped me to grow because without writing my feelings out the way I’ve learned, I would cut someone so deep with my tongue.

I really like this group because they let us pass or write to make us feel good. My skills have opened up more. It makes me happy and feel good about myself and others and it lets me open up to others.

Being a participant is freeing – all day we are controlled, told what to do, and when to do it. We don’t have the freedom of self-expression, no say is what we wear, what we eat, when we sleep or how we spend our time. Having this writing group allows us the freedom we so crave. No limits, no hesitations, no rules, no bars holding us back. It’s like taking a breath of fresh air from the outside. No fence holding us in or back. It’s a vacation and a break from the ever-pending doom and darkness of being imprisoned. My mind and words are freedom in a caged world.

Geminiink Panel Audience to writinginsideVT:

Thank you for sharing your words and life/lives through your book and the geminiink Conference. Our neighborhood in San Antonio has members in prison who are part of our families so we know a little of what you go through. Hope and Peace, Esperanza y Paz, Kamala

Dearest Writers,
Thank you for sharing your dreams, your pain, and your incredible words. Your insight about life and being human reminds me that out of challenges comes precious gems. Keep healing and writing, Linda

Dear Writers,
You are – each and every one of you – an inspiration. It can be difficult to create on the outside but you all are facing the greater challenge of creating on the inside and are more than rising to the occasion. Please know that you and your writing are valued and you have writers cheering you on with each and every poem and story you commit to the page. Read. Write. Read and write more. Good things will come to you and those you love. Be strong. Be Curious. Have faith in the process of writing.

To the women in the group-fellow writers, Thank you for your words. I listened and your words were so eloquent and they touched my mind and my heart.

Thanks for sharing your experiences and wisdom. Your have words have changed me.

For the women and writers – your words are beautiful. They move me. Never stop.

Thank you for your words. Remember, you are not the worst thing that you have done. Keep hope.

Thank you from a writer in Texas. I value your writing and the writing that was shared with us in San Antonio.

Dear Incarcerated Women and Writers,
“Even caged birds sing.” – Maya Angelou – Keep your stories and teach the world.

Thank you so much for trusting us and sharing your work with us. Very moving. – Chuck E.

Ladies and writers, thank you for sharing your work, feelings, and talent. Wishing you all the best of luck on your journey. Also sending you all endless amounts of love.

To the writers: I congratulate you for showing up for yourself and attending this empowering group. May this type of writing reveal to you how you truly are: free to be strong, courageous, and truthful enough to overcome all your challenges. May this group quiet your doubt and give voice to your self-trust.

Ladies, I have been where you are before. I support what you are doing within your writing. I hear the social injustices that you are living through. You have support on the outside. I believe in you, and so many in the county know in some cases you’re in here and completely innocent. Love from San Antonio, TX. xoxo!




cassandra1In modern usage, ‘a Cassandra’ is someone whose accurate prophecies are not believed by those around them, thanks to the curse the god Apollo put on her gift of prophecy as revenge for her broken promise to him; or perhaps because she went mad by virtue of her incarceration by her father the king. Thus no one believed her foretelling of the attack on Troy – and look how that ended!

We all have times in our lives when we feel that our shouted warnings fall on deaf ears. We have experienced the ‘deja vu’ moments that cause us to cringe with recognition of our own precognition. And we often feel trapped, whether by an institution or history or our own interpretations.

In last week’s writing group inside Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility, the common thread that pulls us all through such times is a shared belief in the power of voice. This proved but a  modest foretelling of the power of millions of voices raised two days later, both across this country and beyond, in support of those whose voices continue to be threatened by institutions of power. Inside prison and out in capitol cities of the world, throngs demonstrated with we showed through our words: belief in the power of one voice to save others. Magnified. Cassandra’s no longer, our voices shall be believed for the truths they carry. Continue reading

facets of joy



“Always leave enough time in your life to do something that makes you happy, satisfied, even joyous. That has more of an effect on economic well-being than any other single factor.” ~ Paul Hawken

“Contrary to what we usually believe… the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times—although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen. For a child, it could be placing with trembling fingers the last block on a tower she has built, higher than any she has built so far; for a swimmer, it could be trying to beat his own record; for a violinist, mastering an intricate musical passage. For each person there are thousands of opportunities, challenges to expand ourselves.” ~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” ~ Dr. Seuss

This week, we focused our attention on joy. Our writers drew from memory and poetry to discuss aspects of joy – what brings us joy and what diminishes joy. We identified the joyful moments in our lives as important marker points. This means that our joy is tied, inevitably, to identity. What makes us joy is linked to who we are. And learning who we are helps us feel guided toward living authentic lives. Joy is really difficult to achieve in the prison. Because of that, I’m going to hurry on to our writers’ words this week and let them speak for themselves.

Below, you’ll read our writers’ accounts of their joy and, by extension, accounts of themselves.

Joy Is

Being rocked by your mom starts joy.
Being a mom is also joy,
Playing with friends, at home or in school,
being with your pets, feeling their soft ears,
going on vacation, buying souvenirs,
eating with family, ending with dessert,
learning to drive, getting to take the car out,
sitting on the beach watching the waves roll in,
walking on the boardwalk watching the guys go by,
going on a date with butterflies inside,
enjoying wine, being asked to dance,
buying a new outfit, and 2 pairs of shoes,
cooking for a holiday, enjoying tradition
or being invited for a holiday at someone else’s house.
Food brings joy, ice cream, chocolate, Chinese food. Continue reading

shared freedoms

When you get to a place where you understand that love and belonging, your worthiness, is a birthright and not something you have to earn, anything is possible. ~ Brené Brown

All my life I’ve thought I needed someone to complete me, now I know I need to belong to myself. ~ Sue Monk Kidd, The Mermaid Chair

We listen for guidance everywhere except from within. ~ Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

We started our new semester last week. We asked the question: What could happen if you believed in your own worthiness? A fair question to start the year. It’s a difficult question for many of us. So many things happen to contradict our sense of self-worth. In our group last Thursday, we entertained the idea in writing that we possess worth and that, perhaps, we could claim it.

It is always extraordinary how themes emerge across everyone’s work despite the fact that we write independently and in silence. As each writer read her work, the rest of us were emboldened, feeling stronger with each reading. As one of us claimed our worth, claimed what drives us and defines us, the others had implicit permission to do the same. Also, the belief emerged that our self-worth was tied to our passions and how thoroughly we are able to work towards them, to pursue them.

In the following pieces, you will read writers claiming and discussing their worth and, also, what happens when it is claimed, when each of us claims ourselves.

What if I’m Worthy?

If I find my worth and could shake the cold from my skin, end the endless shivering. If I find my worth and could let my hair down to flow freely with the wind. My pale face would blossom with soft color. Perhaps even my eyes would never again lose their sparkle and could break these weighted chains from my ankles and the cuffs from my wrists would finally break free, their grasp of oppression against my bones. A light would once again shine from deep within my spirit and my soul would warm itself with love and self want. Oh what a moment this would be, healing myself from the inside out gaining back the faith I’d lost so many years ago. A joyous rebirth and would consider this to be escaping from a life of darkness – the light of a thousand suns would burst through the darkness and breathe life back into my once barren existence for love (even self-love) grows in the barren fields of a broken heart and self-kindness can heal it all. A sweet dream to believe in; if this dream where a flower I would breathe in its scented beauty until I was made dizzy with pleasure, this dream turning slowly into sweet reality, something all my own. Daring me to ask myself…what if I’m worthy?



I am, I would, I belong

I would rather be alone.
I belong to myself, that is my birthright.
No one has the right to control me.
No one has the right to abuse me.
Verbally, mentally or physically,
keep my distance from evil people
who think everything is about them.
Are they angry? Are they guilty?
Don’t include me in your weakness.
I am not the enemy.
I have faith. I have feelings.
I feel love. I feel hate.
Words have power.
Truth has power and people are afraid.
Let there be peace on Earth.
God will prevail.
Let the war be won.



Let it Be

Let there be love like blossoming flowers
in the grassy green fields.
Love like it’s the last thing you do in this world.
Love hard, love deep, love with all your heart.
Love is strong. Love is great. Love is pure.
Let love free you from all the stresses
in life and let you escape from this
horrifying world.
Don’t ever hold yourself back from giving
or receiving love for you will be
missing out on such a beautiful thing.
Love hard, love deep, love with all your heart.


perseverance and hope

“. . . women ‘hear each other into speech’ . . . making it possible for women to say things they have never said before, to think thoughts they would have suppressed. . . . new stories are born, and women who hear and tell their stories are inspired to create new life possibilities for themselves and all women.” – Carol Christ, Diving Deep and Surfacing

never-give-upLast week, in place of our regular weekly class, we opened the circle to include invited guests. There were inmates from other units. Also mentors from the community, as well as those who support our work on the outside. All told, we had close to 40 seated in a large open circle in the multi-purpose room inside CRCF.

Ten writers’ works were read, and everyone participated in read-back lines. As a result, we have a robust ‘found poem’ from those lines. In addition, everyone participated in sharing their thoughts after hearing the readings, in the form of ‘what do you take with you and what do you leave behind as a result of this evenings’ words?’

The comments were powerful and perceptive; and since we only do this twice a year, it feels important to share at least some of them here. Through these comments, those not present for the reading may get a small sense of the charged atmosphere of the small windowless room. Thanks also to our assistants in the audience who seamlessly helped quiet passing throngs of loud inmates; organize pad and pen distribution and retrieval; and keep things moving smoothly from start to finish.


I will remember the applause! I take words of wisdom with me. I hope I left behind good memories.

The read-around is amazing. It was nice to hear everyone’s words, especially about families. I will remember all the words that I have heard tonight. And how I took it all into my heart. Thank you for tonight 🙂

Hearing these voices, I am hopeful for each speaker’s future. It was inspiring to hear joy, fear, hope, anger, understanding — all in an hour. Encouragement, I hope.

“One voice … a sentence can change history.” Healing voices can heal others. The butterfly effect.

I am taking away a great appreciation for the women around me. Those that continually fight an endless battle to love, be loved and feel acceptance. A greater curiosity of the mothers who fought for the privileges I carry with me now.

What did you take with you tonight? All the magic of the words; the expressions of all those faces and hum of the voices. What do you want to leave behind? The sadness that I do not come to the class as often as I want.

I will take with me a grounded sense of hope. I will leave behind judgment.

I will take with me the strength of perseverance from those within. I will leave behind hope for all still there that they can maintain hope and optimism for their futures.

I take nothing but I gain everything from the willingness of these writers to share with us. I leave behind my thanks for the perspective of people in my community.

I will take the knowledge that every soul is a diamond. I leave the bonds that link us as friends and travelers on the same road.

Take with me – beauty, even in dark places. Leave behind – the idea that beauty happens only in happy places.

I am taking the enjoyment of the whole group. I will see you again. I’m taking the thought of not being alone with me.

Take with – appreciation for the effort to move toward the light.

I will take inspiration and hope for a better tomorrow for women who have been or are incarcerated. I’ll leave the pain and sorrow.

I will take away a sense that writing and sharing about sadness is helpful. I will leave behind my admiration for the strength it takes to be, and to write and to carry on.

I will take the positive words that were so well put together from the group. They were amazing poems. Well done, ladies. Thank you!

Take with you – I will take the words of all the readers in my heart. Leave behind – my last read-around and work with awesome facilitators.

I will take the courage, the perseverance, the ability to find some laughs. I will leave behind a bit of my heart and some prayers for everyone in the room.

Emotions everyone put into writing will stay with me. Fear of unknown I leave behind.

I didn’t expect what I heard this evening – it was great, such good writers. Very powerful. Wisdom.

I will take grace and encouragement. I will leave behind my emptiness.

Continue reading