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!


patching ourselves up

deviant art

“A woman’s passionate and creative nature is at risk if she cannot hold onto her sources of growth and joy.”

“Once there was a poor motherless child who had no shoes. But the child saved cloth scraps wherever she found them and over time sewed herself a pair of red shoes. They were crude but she loved them. They made her feel rich even though her days were spent gathering food in the thorny woods until far past dark.” From “The Red Shoes” as told by Clarissa Pinkola Estes in Women Who Run with Wolves

Every summer, we bring a folktale in the group. We run programming halftime so we take the opportunity to delve deeply into a single story, explore its symbolism, and use our writing to find each of the characters in ourselves. This year, we’re focused on “The Red Shoes” – a story about a girl who, after being taken in by a wealthy older woman, losses track of who she is only to try and fail to find herself in a pair of dangerous red shoes. The story explores themes such as the loss of soul, temptation, restriction, and recovery. These themes are familiar to our poetry and our circle. Discussion flowed easily about the traps of other people’s opinions, the soul-losses we’ve suffered, and the desires we harbor that nourish us and those that don’t.

In the pieces below, you’ll see pleas for freedom and loving prayers. The dance they are doing is not easy or without grace.


I find it narrow-minded that, generally speaking, my family, as well as society as a whole, expects me to live my life a certain way.

I pretend that I no longer take part in certain activities – one’s that others consider reckless, dangerous, irresponsible. Yet, I find them exhilarating, entertaining, and fulfilling. I generally work 40-50 hours a week attempting to display that I am mature, dependable, and responsible, when really I desire to be at the lake or on a mountain top with my family with a care in the world.

Spontaneously, acting on my wants is what I hunger for. No rules. No boundaries. No limits. Freedom. Not having my medicine on account of my doctor saying it’s necessary. Paying my phone bill three days later than is dated on my bill. Lighting up another cigarette although the surgeon general advises I don’t. Going home when it gets dark because that is what most people do. I desire to do things my way, on my own time. Because I chose what is best for me, not others.

No rules. No boundaries. No limits. Freedom!



My name is nobody.
I am queen of all fallen angels,
lover of all the forsaken souls.
Silent screams are buried beneath their smiles.
Don’t worry, you no longer have to hide in the shadows.
Come out, come out.
Be your true self.
Don’t be afraid of the monsters under your bed.
They’re really you friends.
Get along with the voices inside your head.
Don’t fight the demon within you.
It’s a part of you.
You no longer have to be alone
because I love you.
You no longer have to bleed alone –
two bodies, one soul.
I will take care of you.

A secret fire began to burn in their hearts
and the truth set them free,
free to be who they are,
who they want to be.


safe harbor

Leonid Afremov

Music is therapy. Music moves people. It connects people in ways that no other medium can. It pulls heart strings. It acts as medicine. – Macklemore

Music, at its essence, is what gives us memories. And the longer a song has existed in our lives, the more memories we have of it. – Stevie Wonder

Would you harbor me?

Would you harbor me?
Would I harbor you?
Would you harbor me?
Would I harbor you?
Would you harbor a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew
a heretic, convict or spy?
Would you harbor a run away woman, or child,
a poet, a prophet, a king?
Would you harbor an exile, or a refugee,
a person living with AIDS?
Would you harbor a Tubman, a Garrett, a Truth
a fugitive or a slave?
Would you harbor a Haitian Korean or Czech,
a lesbian or a gay?
Would you harbor me?
Would I harbor you?
Would you harbor me?
Would I harbor you?
song and lyrics by Ysaye Barnwell
Sung by Sweet Honey and the Rock on their album “Sacred Ground”

This week, we came together again to write songs. The song we studied is called, “Would you harbor me?” written by Ysaye Barnwell to be sung by gospel group Sweet Honey and the Rock. When I put the lyrics on the board, someone asked, “What is a harbor?” The group worked together to define harbor. We all gave our explanations and looked it up in a dictionary but ultimately, we said it was place that, in our culture, harbor has come to mean something more significant than its earliest definitions. A harbor is safe place to land in a storm. It is important remember that not all harbors are prepared to take us safely. We learn, over time, the signals that indicate that a harbor is safe and welcome.

There a sentiment shared by those in the group – that it is easy to answer the quetion, “Would I harbor you?” One writer said that as long as she had a couch and a cupboard, they are open to those in need. The harder question for our circle was, “Would you harbor me?” While most of us trust we would take in those in need, we do not believe we will be harbored with equal care and readiness by others. It is a practice in our circle to become fluent in the signals that indicate safety for others; that by listening and keeping each other’s stories Continue reading

give us a song


Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness. – Maya Angelou

Music is the movement of sound to reach the soul for the education of its virtue. – Plato

This week, we departed from our usual work and focused our attention on song writing. When anyone works long enough on one artistic medium, in this case poetry, a certain freshness in the work can be achieved when the artist practices another form. This is the case here. We listened to music together, discussed different songwriting forms, and challenged ourselves to write in that form. The work that came from this was potent and surprising, some of the strongest the writers have made in some time. It’s as though they have been practicing and practicing in the same way with the same diligence and potential and this new form opened up possibilities in their work that they didn’t know what there.

This happens for many artists – something new and out of their control moves into their realm of experience, their consciousness, and changes the way they do their work. In the pieces below, you will read what happens when well-practiced writers ride the energy of something new. It makes magic.


This year was the first celebrated Memorial Day that my Grandpa and Grandma were buried in the same spot.

Every year my aunts and uncles would plant flowers at my Grandpa’s grave.

This year they decided to also sprinkle tobacco and pecans on the grave for my grandma.

I still have her old, classy jewelry and antique gloves that I wear with pride.

I also have a spoon you can use for root beer floats with a straw on it.

I miss you a lot Grandma B.

You always told me that if boys came around to hit ‘em with a baseball bat. You ornery presence will be missed.

Try not to smoke a cigarette with your oxygen tank and blow up heaven.

When we reunite we can have all the root beer floats and pecan pie and watch CSPAN.

See you in Paradise.
RIP Verna Barwin August 7, 2015


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remembering outside


I get my best ideas in a thunderstorm. I have the power and majesty of nature on my side. -Ralph Steadman

“We often forget that we are nature. Nature is not something separate from us. So when we say that we have lost our connection to nature, we’ve lost our connection to ourselves.”
― Andy Goldsworthy

The Horizon Leans
by Maya Angelou

The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.

No less to Midas than the mendicant.
No less to you now than the mastodon then.

Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.

There are some weeks where we bring in a prompt everyone writes to it. We say earth and write earth. We say school and write school. We say motherhood, parenthood, and write about kids and memories and caregiving. But there are other weeks when we offer prompts and writers can’t help but address their state of mind, that there is something serious they need to talk about and no prompt is going to reign that in.

In the space below, you will read the accounts of three writers remembering the time before their incarceration – relationship with others, with nature, and with themselves and all each are mutually transformed through contact with one another. These are the stories they needed to tell. Please hear them and the voices they came to the table with.


Forever changing.
Forever changing, we all flow
Day one to 12 thousand.
Never staying the same.
Starting small evolve and grow.
Everything is always changing
from where I stand.
The moon affects everything,
including my ever changing moods.
I lay down.
I’ve found thunderstorms are soothing –
An ancient lullaby we’d forgotten,
The rain splashing against the earth,
replenishing what’s been lost.
I stand there, in the thunder and rain
Everything comes with a cost
Please wash away this pain
When will the clouds open?
Why won’t this storm stop?
How long must this song go on?
What was once soothing?
Now has been overdone.
When will the sunshine come?
The water is getting deep.
I’m in over my head, I try to swim to shore.
I only slam to the floor,
fell off my bed.
Scared and alone, I’ve become impermeable.
I look out the window to reassure my fears,
the sunrise is beautiful.
No need for tears.


Continue reading