life lines: re-writing lives from inside out
Bianca Viñas, Sarah W. Bartlett & Kassie Tibbott, Editors & Meg Reynolds, Illustrator
Unedited writings from Vermont’s incarcerated women tell their first-person accounts of addiction and mental illness within the prison setting, highlighting the challenges they face in moving forward with their lives. While defusing myths and stereotypes about incarcerated women, these writings form a picture of systemic dysfunction which must be addressed and changed, challenging readers’ own courage and sense of urgency to become involved as they are able to help change these stories. Discussion guide encourages community conversation and action. The production of the limited first print of this collection was supported in part by a grant from Burlington Community Arts Community Fund and Serena Foundation, and Green Writers Press, Brattleboro VT.
FROM ‘WHISPER TO VOICE’ HOWL, by Sarah What is my howl? What I see every day incarcerated brilliant minds, untapped potential. Beat down by a system so unwilling to see the good. What we all want: a breath of new life, a fighting chance. These set-ups for failure are convenient at worst and very lucrative. I can shout and shout, but when I’m locked in this cage, it seems no one can hear me. I know that you all can hear me, but where it matters, my message falls on deaf ears. Conformity to me is sickening. I do not fit in a mold. My mind numbs at others’ ability to march on, heads down, doing the same as the next, and so on. I want us to all be the different that we are. To conform, to be censored, to be colored in the lines, is to have lost my soul. You may as well strike me dead. Ignorance may be bliss, as some say. But it is no sense of peace to me. I’d rather be intelligent to my loss then ignorant to my defeat. And we sit here, locked in, we are not losing. We must revolutionize our system. My words can not be the only thing fighting against this. I cannot be the only noise buzzing in the ears of our adversaries. All this is in my heart can be delivered onto the people unto us. We need to have a voice, to rise up. Please, I implore you to make a change. Use your words make the point—use your voice to make the impact. Call me insane but I will do it again and again. I will fight against, I will love, I will laugh. I will howl whenever necessary and will be prepared for any judgment as a result. We can obtain the keys to our freedom. The choice being, do we fight or simply wait?
FROM ‘LOSS AND LONGING’ ALL MY LIFE, by Mary All my life I’ve been dissolving myself as now that I’ve dissolved myself into the tiniest rain drop. A chocolate drop so small not even a butterfly could taste it. Or one drop out of a rain cloud that fell into the sea unnoticed swallowed by the whale of DOC and cried out when a poacher took the last bit of air out of its massive lungs. All my life I’ve been dissolving myself. I can dissolve myself so more, not now… Now that I’ve dissolved myself into the tiniest rain drop or a chocolate drop so small not even a butterfly could taste it.
FROM ‘CREATIVITY WITHIN’ FLASHBACK, in-class group writing I strained to decipher the bright lights dilating your eyes. Years erased any trace of my existence, an unending view in the mirror. Scary was my first thought. I breathed faster than normal. I couldn’t banish the deep heavy feeling – the sound of a dentist’s drill, the low tones that might have been moaning. This is a hard question to answer, mesmerized by my imagination. He drilled, it seemed, for hours the throbbing drone of a chainsaw. Infinite trails of thought sent me reeling; stripped of my hard exterior, another hand had reached into my soul. I was not a secret. I tried not to breathe. I forced myself to move on. The only alternative was unacceptable to me. Through all of that vision, you have never witnessed a place we all despised. All I wanted was out.
FROM ‘WHEN PATTERNS ARE BROKEN’ MOM, by Valerie I want to show the world how precious you were to me. I want to show with perfect precision, methodical strokes, how abstract my world has become. But I can’t. You made mothering look so peaceful, so harmless, Even while trying to harness my adolescent emotional lava too hot for this chasm of a body. You took every, “I hate you,” in stride and every, “I love you,” with pride. You’re every part of me I love. You’re everything I strive to be. So tell me, mom, where do I turn when there’s no one left to blame but me? Well, it’s time to put my big girl skin on now and be the ME you intended me to be.
FROM ‘AND STILL WE HOPE’ PIECE OF ME, by wiVT participant Suddenly and everywhere, there stood a piece of me, with parts unknown and parts misunderstood. It set my mind at ease. As the brush glides and my thoughts flow, it felt like a river in Egypt. My emotions and feelings grew as if I were telling my life story. With so much to say and so little time, I had to squeeze it all in. As I turn to my right with respect and grace, and a smile coming from within, I proudly say – This is me, strong and different. Suddenly and everywhere, there stood a piece of me!