strength in words

japanese kanji_strength

                    japanese kanji for ‘strength’                      credit – cunycomposersdictionary

Writing inside prison presents an interesting paradox. On the one hand, we want to provide meaningful experiences. The opportunity to go deep, to find new ways to approach old patterns of thought and response. The chance for what is good and strong in each of us to be validated; and for the damage we have suffered or imposed on others to be understood. We seek context and we receive a framework in which to rebuild. We seek tools so we can do the building with integrity and accountability.

On the other hand, weekly predictability and routine are highly valued in an otherwise chaotic environment. This is not to say each week is a repeat of the last. No one would ever want to take part in such a group! But it does mean that, within the familiar structure and sequence of a group, we change up the activities from time to time. We add in visual art as a way to access the depth of feeling sometimes unreachable in words. And we challenge the ways in which we write. Trying out different genres and formats, of course; but also working solo or in pairs or groups. Continue reading

what we know of love

abstract-love-wallpaperWanting to be loved, “I love you,” was what I said… from ‘Full Circle’ by Alden Nowlan

You never see it coming but always see it leaving./It waits by the door, bags packed,/full of stones from your life. from ‘What Love Cannot Do’ by January Gill O’Neil

Valentine’s Day is a mixed bag inside prison. On the one hand, everyone wants to remember – and be remembered by – loved ones on the outside. Yet, for those who do not receive any kind of remembrance, the day can feel hollow, lonely, far weightier than its Hallmark intentions.

Come to think of it, this is not unlike grade-school scenarios of my youth – the popular kids raking in the candy-coated heart-filled valentines while the rest of us walked around empty-handed and -hearted. Or simply dis-heartened.

So it’s a challenge to navigate. Last week we aimed for a middle approach by offering writing prompts that could be interpreted a variety of ways; then turned to making actual physical valentines with traditional red, pink and purple paper, complete with glittery tape, white markers and some red ‘I Love You’s’ in cut-outs. The dozen women around the table jumped whole-heartedly into both activities, producing memories, yearning, fiction and highly original valentines for their children and loved ones. Continue reading

giving thanks

Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings. – William Arthur Ward

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us. – Albert Schweitzer

It has been almost a week since Thanksgiving and I feel like I already need reminders about grace and gratitude. In reviewing our work from last week, I have the same feeling looking at our work as I did around the table at Thanksgiving. We focused our attention on art last week, creating our own political posters to advocate for those things that are most important to us.

The writers, now artists, focused on things like LGBT equality and anti-war sentiments. Mostly though, they created expressions of love and peace. In one, a writer wrote “give peace a chance.” In another, “be adventurous, be kind.” And lastly, one simply wrote, “peace and love” in a bubble floating over the word “family.” As the holiday season continues, these are the messages they want to transmit out into the prison and our community.

We stood in a circle a discussed each poster and what it offered. Essentially, we stood around thanking each other, honoring, working through what each of us trying to say with gentle curiosity and affirmation. With our eyes, words, actions, we showed we were listening. We enacted what saw and advocated for on those posters.

Continue reading

refusing silence

the necessity of voicing our stories

credit – rachel e morris

Don’t just think before you speak; think before you are silent. – Michaela, Hear Me, See Me

If the silence is my choice, I can turn that into a source of strength. – Heather, Hear Me, See Me

But silence is more than it seems. Silence invites. In silence, there is ambient sound galore. . .
the silence in which one might hear one’s own best response.–
Lia Purpura

It’s October once again. In the cycle of Vermont seasons, we anticipate apples, brilliant foliage, crisp air rapidly replacing the balmier remnants of summer; garden beds covered over, lawn chairs brought inside, shorter hours of sunlight; a general turning toward greater silence, muted color, interiority. October also signals Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Each year, out in the community, we offer a workshop called “Refusing Silence: The Necessity of Voicing our Stories.” 

This year, we brought that theme inside, opening with two quotes from the inmates’ own writings from their book HEAR ME, SEE ME: Incarcerated Women Write and Marge Piercy’s fiery poem, ‘Unlearning to Not Speak.’ The writing that emerged from a fevered 30 minutes – pens scrabbling across paper, heads bent low over forming lines, pages filling – spanned titles such as ‘My Eyes,’ ‘My Voice,’ ‘My Words,’ ‘Now It’s Too Late,’ and ‘People Think Silence is my Choice.’ Continue reading

a better way

saying about strength

credit – kennetwaale

“What does one feed intuition so that it is consistently nourished and responsive? One feeds it life by listening to it. We, like Vasalisa, strengthen our bond with our intuitive nature by listening inwardly at every turn in the road.

To be strong does not mean to sprout muscles and flex. It means meeting one’s [inner spirit] without fleeing, actively living with the wild nature in one’s own way. It means to be able to learn, to be able to stand what we know. It means to stand and live.

  Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

As Meg recently posted, we are trying an experiment this summer reading the story of Vasalisa from Women Who Run with the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. This story holds similarities with many other familiar fairytales and myths – notaby Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, The Mirror of Matsuyama and Demeter/Persephone.

Each week of our summer meeting, we read a section of the story; then spend a half hour writing to a prompt which might be an epigraph (like those at the top of this post); a line from the story; or some related concept. Last week pens scratched busily away for the full time. The subsequent sharing was as varied as the number of stories written. If we had hoped to empower women to realize trust in their inner voice and experience its sharing, we have already succeeded. The writing was so powerful that I decided, this week, to share the poem ‘found’ from lines written by the gathered writers rather than highlighting a single writer. One thing I note with this group of writers: not one is using cliche’s but rather, finding original ways to describe or explain complex experiences and emotions.


Things don’t become unsaid.
Questioning my credibility in the universe,
minimizing, betrayal, brutal silencing,
worrying for days while mistaking me for a threat –
all leave me at square one with nothing to show for it. Continue reading