surprised by words

Christmas night, my two daughters and I went inside to surprise our writers with an unplanned holiday writing and art group. It should not have surprised us that the usual chaos reigned — the familiar indecision, conflict, and low morale. I admit, I had hoped the women might welcome the opportunity to do something unexpected on an otherwise emotionally challenging night.

Of course, I was wrong. Surprise is not what keeps these women going. Hope, yes. Consistency and predictability as well. Indeed, this is one reason the writing inside VT program has continued to thrive as we conclude our fifth year. Showing up weekly, regardless of attendance, turnover and weekly distractions has been one of our hallmarks.

Along, of course, with predictability in how we operate.

So we entered the halls with stillness and creativity as co-themes and experiences for our 90 minute session. The seven women who showed up seemed to truly understand and appreciate our offering. They wrote to a line from the opening Poem for Flight, by Becky Birtha; they created collage; and wrote a second time reflecting on their created image. Every woman shared artwork and both writings as well.

As always, their words held the wisdom and depth I experience each week. By now, I am no longer surprised by their words; just humbled and grateful to witness them. The following samples represent the variety of writings inspired that night:


by rp


They say to follow your dreams, and I think that is a valuable piece of wisdom. However, sometimes achieving our dreams isn’t the point of following them. It’s about the following part, the journey. The journey can be full of hardships, detours, getting lost and even beauty. Journeys are usually described as being “full of danger” or “a grand adventures.” Often times, the journey changes people, transforms them in some way they never knew was possible. And, there are times when you are following your dreams, somewhere along the line, your dream changes. Along the journey, you discover a whole new dream you’ve never dreamt was possible. Dreams are what keeps the journey alive and ultimately, have the power to transform even the most skeptical and fearful of dreamers.


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burlington book festival reading

Once again, women whose writings appear in HEAR ME, SEE ME: Incarcerated Women Write gathered for a reading, this time at Burlington’s Tenth Annual Book Festival. To a rapt audience of about 50 gathered in a semi-circle in the city’s Fletcher Free Library, four women read of their lives.

One shared a moving story of working in daycare with an autistic boy where she alone understood him; to the extent that, when she changed jobs, the parents moved the boy so he could continue to work with her! And at the time she was just 15 years old.

Another traced her life like the many layers like an onion, ‘until I too am buried under the ground like the onion root that grows new life to the next generation.’

A third read of life inside ‘caged like animals at the zoo, being watched, on display . . . they watch us sleep, they hear us roar. Just our thoughts they can’t keep . . .’ 

And a fourth read a moving prayer which starts ‘It’s me, your daughter . . . me whom you loved, no matter the number of my faults.’ Sitting directly in front of her with barely contained emotion at the words coming from her daughter’s mouth, her mother wept for the gift of getting her daughter back.

Thank you to all you strong and beautiful women for sharing your lives and your hearts before an audience of strangers, each of whom left the room changed – and charged – by your courage. [Photos courtesy Lisa Ritter]


changes in the air



(left to right) Sarah W. Bartlett and Marybeth Christie Redmond, co-founders, writing inside VT.

On July 1, writing inside VT enters its fifth year of writing toward self-change and healthy community with Vermont’s incarcerated women!

This seems like an appropriate time to announce that I, Marybeth, will be stepping down from the program, and Sarah will continue on as director, creative force, and facilitator extraordinaire! I am deeply grateful for her willingness to keep the program running and energized.

In addition to writing-inside responsibilities, I’ve been working full-time as marketing/communications director for Vermont Works for Women during the past year.

(It’s a Winooski-based nonprofit organization that supports women in their work-lives and helps them move toward economic independence. Many of our former writers pass through VWW doors, working hard on their successful reentries – so I get to see them and reconnect. Lucky me!)

My expanding work responsibilities, coupled with an active 12-year-old son, have led to the bittersweet reality that “something’s gotta give.” And the desire for more balance and space in my life seems to be the siren call.

Alongside Sarah, I will remain co-founder of the writing inside VT program and continue to promote and speak about our book, Hear Me, See Me: Incarcerated Women Write. But my regular duties facilitating groups and co-directing the program will come to end – at least for now.

Do not surprised to see me at future Read-Around events in the prison facility (I’ve requested a standing invitation) or on the book tour circuit with Sarah. We’ve got one in the works for Montpelier soon.

And to all of the women writers – both inside and outside – who have shared their stories and lives with me over five years:

THANK YOU for blessing my life story with yours. The tender fragments of your hopes and dreams, joys and sorrows, clarities and confusions – have enriched my life and helped me to become a deeper listener, a more compassionate presence, and an honest writer. You live in my heart, for always. I mean that.


‘I am who I was . . . and more’

Raven signing the book

Raven signing the book

These seven simple words contain worlds of insight, compassion, gratitude and change.

They are the kernel of notes that keep coming to us in the aftermath of our book launch of HEAR ME, SEE ME: Incarcerated Women Write last week.

These seven words capture the experience of the listener who penned them in gratitude and awe after hearing nine previously-incarcerated women read their words from the book.

These same words have been re-stated in endless variation by others who were similarly moved by what they heard.

And they capture the essence of heartfelt thanks from the women writer-readers themselves. Writing changes us. ALL of us. Read on…    Continue reading

change the way we look at our lives

graphic - change the way you see

credit positivepearblog

Last night, we read from Pema Chodron’s Taking the Leap:Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears. In chapter four, she introduces shenpa – the rut of continually being hooked by our personal habitual expectations, experience, the old story we tell about ourselves.

The dozen women gathered inside our stuffy windowless room listened attentively, then dove into their writing without hesitation. Several chose to start their writing with the epigraph: We don’t necessarily have to change our lives around to be writing or to be writing more.We must change the way we look at our lives. – Georgia Heard, Writing Toward Home.

Excerpts from two writers appear below. Their words tell of common struggles incarcerated women face while seeking something different from what they have known. To change, to become better people. Continue reading