homeless person’s interview

Tonight’s group of incarcerated women writers was filled with 14 participants, several of them for the first time. Despite multiple interruptions from outside, they remained focused and eager to follow an unusual sequence for the evening. After opening with the long and powerful poem, “This is the Hour” by The Hopi Nation Elders, they moved into a short ten-minute writing time; then were offered magazine images from which to select two or three. Another short writing  about what those images raised for them was followed by comparing the original and final writings to see what connections, if any, existed.

To a woman, they were intrigued by what they found. Finally, collaging these images finished the evening on a high note. One participant, AA, wrote a tender-comic interview which she later connected with a series of images that spoke to the insights she, like many of these women, often conceal inside. Her words follow:

“Where do you live?”
“Gosh. I don’t want to say.”
When you say I’m homeless, they always look with dismay.
“Where was your last place of residence?”
Now it’s getting intense.
“What’s the address of yesterday’s stay?”
“How long did you stay there?”
I look down. “Just a day.”
“Do you have any close family?”
I look up. “Hell, yes! I’ve got many.”
“What’s your means of income?”
The look she gives says she thinks I am dumb.
“I fly a sign I put out on a can.”
“Isn’t that a crime?” “Not where I sit. It’s just fine.”
“What’s some of your goals?”
“I’d like some shoes without holes.”
“What’s your future plan?”
“It’s to be just as I am.”

After making my collage, I found the following connections between my earlier writing and the collage:

Everything goes up.
They are strong and can hold themselves up.
They can bring benefits to many.
They require time.
They are something to watch.
With love and respect, they go far.
They start at the bottom, then rise.

They relate because people judge by looks and what they see; that’s how they decide whether it’s good or bad, instead of history; and what they miss may be sad.


transitions remind us of gratitude

Tonight, we talked about the many transitions represented in our culture by the month of June: graduation/commencements; weddings; the solstice; end of school year; and so many more. For writinginsideVT, another transition is the end of our second grant from Vermont Arts Council and National Endowment for the Arts. We celebrated this past three months of amazing writing with the compilation and distribution of a 90-page anthology of writings from the women inside CRCF who write with us weekly.

In keeping with a spirit of gratitude for the many transitions we have overseen – women coming to voice, discovering what is most important to them, making healthier choices for their lives (to name a few) – as well as the abundant support we have garnered over the years for this work, we thought to share some gratitudes directly from the hands of participants themselves. Each week we end our writing circle with comments about the session – generally in the form of gifts/challenges; what worked/didn’t; and so on. Clearly we have far too many to share here. However, a few selected comments from the past three months will help you feel and understand the gratitude that keeps us coming back week after week:

Gifts – hearing everybody’s summer joy; made me happy and joyful. Challenges – inspiration for summer, since I’m in jail every summer.

Gifts – working with someone new, gaining their perspective. Challenges – to remain open to something I was unsure of.

What made me happy? just coming to group and being in a great environment. What made me sad? my writing made my emotions go crazy . . .

I was inspired by memories of my childhood hideaway; I was challenged in listening to compliments gracefully; I have always felt uncomfortable, but I’m learning.

Inspired me—seeing how strong we all have become; challenged me—saying goodbye to a friend.

The gifts were the women sharing their writings, their emotions. Challenges were reading what I wrote back to the group. Listening to my words being read gave my emotion substance.

I’m new to this group and it was good to hear the women express themselves in different ways other than hurtful, hateful ways.

Thanks for coming every chance you can.

I liked the way this group went, there was a lot of strong sentences, very powerful words which I related with on a personal level. Didn’t like being out of my comfort zone, pertaining to the way some of the poems made me feel. Hard reading out loud!!!

My respect for the women in this circle is what grew; Self-doubt shrank away somewhat.

I loved the poetry and the centeredness of the room atmosphere.

Grew: strength, hope, connection. Shrank: insecurity

I remembered what it was like to be 15 again. I forgot, temporarily . . . as I always do in group, that I was in jail.

What grew in me was my self-worth; what faded were negative thoughts regarding my past, thinking the damage that is done is unrepairable.

Grew: astonishment, admiration, humility—appreciation for the courage here, the love.  Faded: fear, feelings of inadequacy.

connecting despite walls

Last Thursday evening as I was leaving the prison late, I experienced one of those moments that touches a place almost too deep for words.

I happened to look through several layers of glass into a distant room. And there, standing a bit to one side in conversation, stood one of ‘my’ writers. She hasn’t written with us in our weekly writing circles for some time – she’s been on an emotional roller coaster for a while. Yet every time she HAS joined us, her writing has been powerful, raw, and (according to her own words) more valuable than any counseling session — because of the depth and immediacy of shared experience. She always thanked me for coming and appeared genuinely grateful for the chance to reflect on and learn from herself and others in the group.

Our eyes connected. I put my hand to my heart, patting a soft fist against my chest two to three times in a gesture I reserve for those I most care for, nodding as I did so with a smile. And SHE crossed both arms over HER chest, holding my gaze with tender intensity as her own head nodded ever so slightly.

The compassion that can pass through time, space, even glass prison walls – not to mention the enormous divide between us in terms of where we are in our lives . . . !

THIS is good work indeed.