indigo to infinity

This was read-around week inside. In place of our weekly  group, six of our core writers shared pieces they have written over the past several months. Their listeners included a handful of sister inmates plus over two dozen community guests. Funders, friends, potential new writing inside VT team members, advocates and other interested parties came to witness powerful words telling of life, dreams and hard work.

It is the magic of this work that each reading is utterly unique; each listener deeply moved; each evening seamless in its blending of depth and presence. Dialogue between readers and audience revealed the value of the writing program to the well-being of participants; and clearly, the witnessing evoked as strong a response from the outside guests as from the readers themselves.

What it comes down to is the words, powerful emotions captured in short bursts of writing that came back to our ears in new combinations. To honor that sense of weaving, I share the poem constructed from lines spoken at the reading. See for yourself what stories unfold line by line, imagining the individual threads that have come together to create this new whole.

INDIGO TO INFINITY – found poem from 10.26. read-around

My name is nobody.
They’ve taken my true meaning –
decommissioned as a mother,
the light that lives in me
eclipsed by ugly rhetoric –
and no one there to see the hurt.
That pain needs to be fed, locked away all those years –
those bitter twisted lies
the tangled untruths
such strange poison of my own
growing like a fruit, too ripe.

My brain is too heavy to hold.
I sit, I burn, I crumble;
my shadow’s gone and I want to go home
from these soulless halls,
unwinder of edges
drunk on the dismissal of my words.

I think it’s time to tell you you were wrong.
I am lover of all forsaken souls,
the demon inside.
I wanted to run but it’s never helped before,
the dance fierce and exhausting.
Tell your babies to survive –
you gave them your last breath –
and keep your politics out of my coffee.
It wasn’t as fun as it looked.
I’m not the only one who ties myself in knots;
maybe I’ll get it right next time.

Still, like dust, I rise.
I rise to be a better me,
live for the little something inside.
I will continue to rise ‘til the day I die.



“The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes.” ~ Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart

“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” ~ Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

“We are a community of possibilities, not a community of problems. Community exists for the sake of belonging and takes its identity from the gifts, generosity, and accountability of its citizens. It is not defined by its fears, its isolation, or its penchant for retribution. We currently have all the capacity … to create an alternative future.” ~ Peter Block, Community: The Structure of Belonging

We belong to one another. We live in a continual interweaving that goes both noticed and unnoticed. We impact one another in ways we can’t always see or control. We surprise ourselves with these connections all time. It’s when you sit back and say, Wow, small world. And when this happens, we either embrace it or feel challenged by it but, either way, it’s there. Continue reading

HEAR ME, SEE ME goes academic

string and ink drawing by Norajean

Artwork by Norajean

This morning a review of HEAR ME, SEE ME: Incarcerated Women Write went up on the Wellesley College Women’s Review of Books. And tomorrow afternoon, a handful of previously-incarcerated women whose words appear in HEAR ME, SEE ME will read before assembled students, faculty and townfolk at Middlebury College.

We are being graciously hosted by Chellis House, Women’s Resource Center in concert with the Program in Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies; Feminist Action at Middlebury; the Program in Creative Writing; and the Office of the Dean of the College. Tomorrow’s format will differ somewhat from our formal book launch in October. After the reading, a Q&A will permit listeners to ask the questions they would otherwise take home with them. And of course, there will be book sales and signing to follow.

Marybeth and I are so proud of the hard work these women continue to do to try to unravel the tangled threads of their early lives and reweave them into a meaningful life ahead. They stumble, they fall, they get back up. And they have one anothers’ backs, a crucial support network too often woefully lacking on the outside.

At last night’s group, populated with a tender mix of new writers and returned-from-prior- release veterans, one woman penned the following – her words anything but academic!


Never before have I been thrown into a place of such brokenness as within these walls. Every woman has her own story to tell, and I have yet to hear one that does not include pain, loss and hopelessness. One thing I have come to see is that no matter what pain I have inside, I still wish there was something, anything, that I could do to help each and every woman who is stuck here behind these walls with me.

We are all broken in some way, but are also some of the greatest women I know. We may be different, but we are also so much alike.

As my time here begins to come to an end, one of the many motivations I have – to keep myself from being locked behind these walls again – is to not forget those women I have met along my journey. I pray that someday I will be that special connection, that even one woman can count on to help her show the rest of the world just how amazing I know she already is.


soul writing

Our ‘inside’ writers love the opportunity to write from visual images. Thanks to Deborah Koff-Chapin and her inventive Touch Drawing(TM) technique, there are a couple of decks of ‘Soul Card’ images we often use. Last night, I asked the women to allow their imaginations to describe an image through all five senses. They then posed the question ‘what if’ as in Mary Oliver’s poem, ‘how would you live then?’

I think it would be fair to say some of the women were quite surprised to find where this simple prompt led them. And Mary Oliver would be proud. The first line of her poem ‘Fox’ says just this: ‘You don’t ever know where/ a sentence will take you.’ Read on to see where you’ll be led!

credit - Deborah Koff-Chapin

credit – Deborah Koff-Chapin

What if all I could feel was loneliness?

But here I am alone; can’t I feel it?
Stuck in a dark green foggy world, state, place I call my own.
What if I was disconnected from the world?
But aren’t I?
What if I was stuck in a cold, musty room where all I could hear was the sound of my own breath? Inhale, exhale; inhale, exhale.
What if I only felt the warmth of my own skin against my own, the warmth of my breath as I was curled in a corner crying, scream-imagining my way out.
Cold but warm.
Happy but so sad.
Lonely but not alone.
Weak but strong.
Naked but fully clothed.
What if?
What if I could alone decide which path to walk, keep entering towards darker, deeper territory; OR walking into the light where I am no longer alone?
No longer scared, ashamed, scarred and bruised.
No longer alone.
What if?

Continue reading

women unmasked

Masque baoulé

Masque baoulé (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week we received a packet from Monroe Country Correctional Center in Bloomington, IN. Women in G Block had read poems from HEAR ME, SEE ME: Incarcerated Women Write. Moved by those words, they penned responses to the authors here in VT during their own recent writing circle.

Our writers inside Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility last Thursday night witnessed firsthand how powerfully words can connect women. Women sharing the experience of incarceration, yes. But more than that, women unmasked and vulnerable connecting with one another through writing.

Because Thursday was also Halloween, we wrote about the masks we hide behind, the masks we want to become, the masks of who we once were. The poem by new writer TC, below, fairly explodes with the tension of masking the pain and loss of separation from her children. Another connection felt, made, witnessed. Continue reading