Twelve years ago I approached the idea of taking a writing program inside Vermont’s women’s prison, based on my feminist-leaning creative writing project in the greater Burlington community. Support and enthusiasm – from the women themselves to prison administrators to community organizations – has only continued all these years later.
Deeply imprinted on my heart are the faces and words of hundreds of women who sat with us weekly for two-and-a-half hours year-round. I can still envision the scene: pens poised above sheets of paper waiting to be filled with their dreams, their regrets, their challenges, their determination to learn and to grow beyond their current situation. The thread of continuity was our regular presence, as well as our insistence on mutual respect and honesty. I will always remember the women’s fierce loyalty to our writing evenings, our practices and the shared need for a lifeline that writing provided to so many over the years.
Indeed, writinginsideVT has been called a lifeline by a number of our writers. This legacy is apparent in those who have gone on, outside, to write; those who continue to keep in touch; and those whose words appear in the compilation “LifeLines: Re-Writing Lives from Inside Out.” Intended as a starting point for discussion of the major and pervasive issues facing incarcerated women, “LifeLines” has just been re-released. It is my fondest hope that it will be read and discussed by educators, policy makers, criminal and social justice advocates and reformers of all kinds. That it will provide significant input to meaningful discussion and policy-making. That the women whose struggles are openly shared within those pages will live to know their words mattered – not only to them, and to us, but to the wider world as well.
With the re-release of “LifeLines” our program is also in transition. writinginsideVT, like many programs, has changed due to the pandemic, staffing changes, and prison policy. As a result, our work has moved, under the able leadership of Kassie Tibbott, Esq. to a more external focus on advocacy and legislative reform. What we know from our years inside is that the same issues of poverty, lack of education and abuse of all kinds bring women inside – again and again – and that changes on the outside are needed to solve these problems at the source.
The stories are heartbreakingly similar year to year. In this way, “LifeLines: Re-Writing Lives from Inside Out” remains as relevant today as when the writings were first penned. What must NOT remain the same is the system that perpetuates the need for such writings. And so we continue to collect and to share stories of our dedicated writers; to make the case for reform; and to urge all of us to work tirelessly toward the changes we know are long overdue. We thank you for your continued support.
-Sarah W. Bartlett