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.

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.


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.


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!

national poetry month

national poetry month

“To create art with all the passion in one’s soul is to live art with all the beauty in one’s heart.”
Aberjhani, Journey through the Power of the Rainbow: Quotations from a Life Made Out of Poetry

“The poet is the priest of the invisible.” — Wallace Stevens, from Opus Posthumous.

“Poetry is ordinary language raised to the Nth power. Poetry is boned with ideas, nerved and blooded with emotions, all held together by the delicate, tough skin of words.” — Paul Engle, from an article in The New York Times.

There is a lot to celebrate because it is national poetry month. Poetry is the main mode we study, examine, and explore when writing on the inside. We share a poem every week, we teach poetic forms, and, most often, our writers create pieces that, between line break, stanza break, deliberate word choice, and potency of image, are more poetry than prose. Sure, we attend to structure but mostly, poetry works on the inside because of the scope. Poetry is broad in a small space. Poetry is a method of connecting with one another in a way that is nonviolent.

Know that we work is a small space. We have a gathering of tables in a spare computer room. We circle up with stacks of blank paper and a spare concrete and consistent agenda. We have spare, clear prompts: what would the perfect poem sound like? What do you use your voice for? There’s freedom in that spareness that allows our minds to roam into themselves and it is up to each of us to untangle our own abundant messes, to make our invisible churches visible.

In the space below, you will see the dangerous and gentle romps made using almost nothing to access everything. We write poetry because poetry is generous and it models generosity that we offer each other. Each writer has a page and is given the page of each other’s empty ear. We make poetry and then we listen. Now you may too.


Trying to write a poem from the bottom of my heart
and I can’t figure out the best place to start.
I found a million and one reasons to spill out I-love-yous,
had to come up with a million more to convince you that it’s true.
Nothing’s at face value, something always lies beneath.
It looks like heaven but you swear you feel hell’s heat.
Pretty as a butterfly just drifting in the wind.
Chase it to the middle of nowhere, find out that it brings
apples galore up at the tip top of that age old tree.
It looks so enticing but there’s so much more that you can’t see.
You got caught in a trap more than a time or two.
At one point in your life you didn’t think before you do.
But lessons in life are harsh and now look who pays the price
cause anytime I speak you put my head in a vice.
Look into my eyes and me – that spark is missing staring out
into a meadow the sun makes it all glisten.
Do you see it as an illusion, the toughest nut to crack?
Let me tell you something – these blue skies won’t fade to black.
No dark clouds in the distance, no fury in the wind,
the only part you fail to see is the sweetness in the sin.
An island on the ocean peaceful bliss, serenity,
after days it gets so lonely more like lost away at sea.
I guess that’s just what happens when that last coating peels away,
underneath is rotting wood ugly of an array.
This is the exception to most of life’s mysteries.
Take a chance just this one time.
The past is history.



Combat: I understand you perfectly, daring us to stay mad.

Took me a long time to really understand myself and to take a hard, long look and peel back the layers of hurt and pain that I just let turn into anger and resentment, and started to realize that it’s okay to feel the emotions and not let them dictate an angry soul. No longer combat, whether physical or mental and against myself or another being was all I knew and, as I sit here in a place I can’t escape, am forced to look at the one thing that truly matters while here and that’s me. Somehow I feel different, like this place is daring me to stay mad, almost provoking me to stay the person I have known for so long but I am aware of the good qualities I possess and the choice in roads to take and I’m choosing the harder road and leading myself back to life and freedom, am trying to work on forgiveness and letting the past be the past and once resentment has loosened its grasp on my heart and soul, not only will I be free from this place but am working towards mental freedom, so it is I that I understand perfectly.




Where do you begin to find the perfect poem?
What would the perfect poem begin to look and sound like?
I can’t tell you, that’s for sure
but it’s got my mind in an uproar
like little children doing chores
as the words to this perfect poem lay
all across this lonely floor
unaware if I am placing the utter of words
in a sentence that makes sense
as I ramble on I start to lose myself
in my own thought.


who we have become

surrender - susie scarborough copy

mandala by Susie Scarborough

I believe the lasting relation comes from deep changes in ourselves which influence our collective life. – Anais Nin

Life is change. Growth is optional. – Karen Kaiser Clarke

At our final group during Women’s History Month, we synthesized material explored in the first four. The model for our approach was May Sarton’s ‘Now I Become Myself’ along with the epigraphs listed above. We ended the group with collage-making. And our weekly ‘soul cards’ in which we share reflections about the evening’s group. One in particular stood out – from a participant who will be leaving this week. She wrote:

I have truly enjoyed this class. Please continue your great work. I feel that I have been able to look inside myself, not just inside but deep within. I have written things that I am proud of and shared one that I wrote for my mother called “Security” She told me it made her cry. Mom’s never change. Thank you again, DN

What powerful closure to a month honoring the women who have gone before, on whose shoulders we stand, to whom we owe such a debt of gratitude! The strong, the invisible, the challenging – all impact us and influence who we in fact become.

Read on for a sampling of writings from the 17 inmates in the circle.


What have I become?
a number

What have I become?
an animal
chow, come and get it.

What have I become?

I once was a girl
but I was scared to go to bed.
I once was a teen
but I got scared about the epidural.
I once was a mom
but I got scared they’d feel my pain.
I once was a carpenter
but I got scared of success.
I once was a booster
but I got scared of getting caught.
I once was a dealer
but I got suspicious of everything.
I once was an active addict
but I got scared of death.

I once wasn’t scared of anything
but I got to grow up. Continue reading

under appreciated

maya-angelouWomen are the one-half of humanity most likely to respond to beauty and to little children and young animals…We are the ones who bear the children and know of the effort it takes to raise a child into adulthood. We are the empathic gender … – Jean Shinoda Bolen, Urgent Message from Mother

When … [I] asked [my grandmother] of what in life/was she most proud,/ the older woman answered/each of my children lived to be/an adult. – Cinda Thompson, from ‘Homemaker’

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, we turned to lesser celebrated women in our lives. Not the ones whose praises or political efforts are widely sung; not the ones whose names are on every tongue; not the ones anyone else may even have heard of. No, this week we turned to under appreciated women we have known, attempting to create a tribute of some kind. Whether responding to one of the epigraphs or the opening poem – the brief, tongue-in-cheek ‘Except for Laura Secord’ by Sylvia Maultash Warsh – or to a magazine image of a woman that resonated with us, each one in the circle had a lot to say. About invisibility.  Emotional pain.  Hard physical labor, psychic wounds, unfulfilled dreams, even the ordinary daily routine of life … so much unspoken and unsung.

But not in our circle! The writing abounds with depth of observation and feeling, a fitting way to bring Women’s History Month to a close. Except for next week, of course!


The light does not expose what has
been ripped apart within.
You see this shell and it remains intact,
a fortress if you will …
Every curve has been carved to the liking
of the rain.
Every nook has been chiseled from the lining
of a touch.
In one piece, the power is mine to keep.
No window or door opens on command.
            I do not take orders.
            I do not crumble
            I am here.
            I am built to last.

AG Continue reading

college education in prison

It’s happening. Here. Now. The very work that Meg and Sarah proposed over two years ago. The very work that many colleges and universities around the country as well as the state of Vermont have talked about, mulled over, studied for, planned. The very work that required a consortium to bring to reality.

University of Vermont is taking the lead with one of our advisory group members. She needed to step down from helping us in order to do this. Go, Kathy Fox! And go, women inside Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility currently studying Justice within a rigorous college curriculum.