hope

“Life is a constant Advent season: we are continually waiting to become, to discover, to complete, to fulfill. Hope, struggle, fear, expectation and fulfillment are all part of our Advent experience.”

As we enter the season of Advent, there is little to cheer on women incarcerated at Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility. Waiting and preparation are what their time is made of; and for many of them, the hope that originally wove through the fabric of time has simply worn thin.

Holidays can be a particularly tough time inside, as they remind us of family closeness and the warmth of special traditions. Yet in spite of all that seems to separate us from one another, our weekly opportunity to sit together, pen our thoughts and share them openly brings a measure of relief, of closeness … even of hope.

A sampling of the writing from this week follows, written by the artists whose work appears above:

HOPE

Hope has no goddamned wings. Perhaps she had them once, a shining Christmas angel full-feathered. Now she staggers wet cobblestones dripping bloody stumps, stray feathers mutilated with her blood. She weeps and wails, sorry for herself or sorry for me. Hope has no goddamned wings. She doesn’t wear a sparkling samite sheath. She wears tattered rags, too worn and stained to be black, too mottled to be gray. Her muddy petticoat bares torn lace, my Freudian slip showing. Hope has no goddamned wings. Her feet bleed with every halting step, the mean and bitter earth cutting and snatching, tearing and rending tender, once-pristine feet. Hope has no goddamned wings. She was shot down long ago, if she ever flew at all on wings made of the dreams of fools. Hope has no goddamned wings. I’ve never seen her face shining with holy light, only wet with sweat and tears, folded like a Japanese fan with effort. Hope has no goddamned wings. She doesn’t sing a victory tune. She compels me on with a fucking dirge – mine – if I don’t work harder, faster, longer, better … mine, if I’m lucky. Hope has no goddamned wings.

MR

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preparing to go

By sgs_1019/Flickr

By sgs_1019/Flickr

The incarcerated women’s writing circle said goodbye last night to one of its most accomplished writers.

JL will transfer from Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in Vermont to an out-of state prison.

The nature of her crime necessitates serving the rest of her sentence in a federal facility.

She won’t learn her departure date until minutes before it’s time to go.

As you’ll see from her moving piece below, leaving one prison facility for another requires a purging of sorts, as an inmate departs with “only the clothes on her back.”

We will miss JL’s infectious smile and insightful words.

We will also recall the great shift that occurred in her heart and mind during the year she graced our writing circle.

PREPARATION

Sifting through the papers, the cards, the letters received; all the things I held in my cell as important, things that helped me survive the past year.

And now I watch my hands drop armfuls of memories into the recycling bin as I prepare to move on.

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hope during advent

Credit: marian solidarity

Credit: marian solidarity

Last night, in keeping with the first week of Advent, we wrote to the theme of hope. What made this writing challenging – and  to the amazement of the women around the circle, rewarding – was the second part. After a 20 minute free-write, each woman took an additional 10 minutes to transform her words into a poem. We used the pantoum, an accessible repeating pattern based on 8 distinct lines which women selected from the ‘strongest’ in their original writing.

The resulting poems spoke raw power, profound clarity and deep pain. Read both the original and poetic versions from TH, one of our newer writers. She sinks directly into experience, dredging up the immediacy of her pain and struggle for hope using the analogy of drug use. It took my breath away. But you decide for yourself!

‘Please try your call again later.’ Sighing, I hang the plastic black receiver up and continue staring at the numbers on the keypad. You never seem to be on the other end anymore . . .  The guard hands out stacks of cards and letters. As usual, I receive nothing.

I am here.

Alone.

Forgotten.

Buried in pain.

My mind turns the corner of loneliness, extracting hope as if with a tiny syringe, sucking it in off its home in my soul and injecting it into my current state, bright red, pungent, stinging my veins. It hurts to hope because you never come. You never answer. You never write.

And yet, I magically produce more, even now, as snow lightly decorates the ground; even as December marches on in pageantry and decoration. You are mine and I am yours. We always say we are family, and family NEVER LEAVES family!

But you’re gone. Continue reading