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.


what scares us

ocean image in black and white

“Openness doesn’t come from resisting our fears but from getting to know them well.” ~ Pema Chodron, The Places that Scare You

“Courage is not living without fear. Courage is being scared to death and doing the right thing anyway.” ~ Chae Richardson

Last week we talked about fear. Everyone has their own definition. It seems obvious to point out what it is that scares us. People have all kinds of phobias: heights, spiders, snakes, public speaking, or, rarer, going outside, tornadoes, bear attacks. We learn what we are afraid of by experiencing the conditions that produce that fear. If we are bit by a spider in childhood, we perhaps learn to fear arachnids.

As adults, it is more difficult to recognize or admit when we are learning new fears or building on old ones. We new parents hold their child, they have joy but also a welling up of great terror for the safety of that child. They ask, “How can I love anyone so much? How can I do right by my baby?” With new experiences, even fantastic ones, come new fears. Inside, our writers grapple with new fears and old ones, many of the same ones they’ve always had but also new fears that are born of their new experience in the prison.

We asked our writers this week what they would do if they were free of fear. Instead of answering this prompt, most, if not all, of our writers explored fear as a concept, how it dominates their experience, and also, what scares them the most. Trying to imagine a life beyond fear was too much travel in the short time we had together.

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perseverance and hope

“. . . women ‘hear each other into speech’ . . . making it possible for women to say things they have never said before, to think thoughts they would have suppressed. . . . new stories are born, and women who hear and tell their stories are inspired to create new life possibilities for themselves and all women.” – Carol Christ, Diving Deep and Surfacing

never-give-upLast week, in place of our regular weekly class, we opened the circle to include invited guests. There were inmates from other units. Also mentors from the community, as well as those who support our work on the outside. All told, we had close to 40 seated in a large open circle in the multi-purpose room inside CRCF.

Ten writers’ works were read, and everyone participated in read-back lines. As a result, we have a robust ‘found poem’ from those lines. In addition, everyone participated in sharing their thoughts after hearing the readings, in the form of ‘what do you take with you and what do you leave behind as a result of this evenings’ words?’

The comments were powerful and perceptive; and since we only do this twice a year, it feels important to share at least some of them here. Through these comments, those not present for the reading may get a small sense of the charged atmosphere of the small windowless room. Thanks also to our assistants in the audience who seamlessly helped quiet passing throngs of loud inmates; organize pad and pen distribution and retrieval; and keep things moving smoothly from start to finish.


I will remember the applause! I take words of wisdom with me. I hope I left behind good memories.

The read-around is amazing. It was nice to hear everyone’s words, especially about families. I will remember all the words that I have heard tonight. And how I took it all into my heart. Thank you for tonight 🙂

Hearing these voices, I am hopeful for each speaker’s future. It was inspiring to hear joy, fear, hope, anger, understanding — all in an hour. Encouragement, I hope.

“One voice … a sentence can change history.” Healing voices can heal others. The butterfly effect.

I am taking away a great appreciation for the women around me. Those that continually fight an endless battle to love, be loved and feel acceptance. A greater curiosity of the mothers who fought for the privileges I carry with me now.

What did you take with you tonight? All the magic of the words; the expressions of all those faces and hum of the voices. What do you want to leave behind? The sadness that I do not come to the class as often as I want.

I will take with me a grounded sense of hope. I will leave behind judgment.

I will take with me the strength of perseverance from those within. I will leave behind hope for all still there that they can maintain hope and optimism for their futures.

I take nothing but I gain everything from the willingness of these writers to share with us. I leave behind my thanks for the perspective of people in my community.

I will take the knowledge that every soul is a diamond. I leave the bonds that link us as friends and travelers on the same road.

Take with me – beauty, even in dark places. Leave behind – the idea that beauty happens only in happy places.

I am taking the enjoyment of the whole group. I will see you again. I’m taking the thought of not being alone with me.

Take with – appreciation for the effort to move toward the light.

I will take inspiration and hope for a better tomorrow for women who have been or are incarcerated. I’ll leave the pain and sorrow.

I will take away a sense that writing and sharing about sadness is helpful. I will leave behind my admiration for the strength it takes to be, and to write and to carry on.

I will take the positive words that were so well put together from the group. They were amazing poems. Well done, ladies. Thank you!

Take with you – I will take the words of all the readers in my heart. Leave behind – my last read-around and work with awesome facilitators.

I will take the courage, the perseverance, the ability to find some laughs. I will leave behind a bit of my heart and some prayers for everyone in the room.

Emotions everyone put into writing will stay with me. Fear of unknown I leave behind.

I didn’t expect what I heard this evening – it was great, such good writers. Very powerful. Wisdom.

I will take grace and encouragement. I will leave behind my emptiness.

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waiting . . . waiting . . . waiting . . .

endless waiting

credit – shira

One of the hard things about going in and out of prison each week is we go out, leaving the women in. Another is witnessing the waiting. Waiting for sentencing, waiting for release, waiting for treatment, waiting for visitors, waiting for encouragement, waiting for help, waiting for housing, waiting for family to reconnect with them, waiting to max out. Waiting. And waiting some more.

For one woman in particular, the wait is excruciating, mixed as it is with layers of factors that are interwoven and can apparently not be separated. She should be in treatment; she should be getting help with language; she should be sent home to serve out her sentence. She should get credit for exemplary behavior and leadership while inside. She should be treated with basic respect and compassion. But ‘should’ doesn’t carry weight here. And so, she waits. And waits. And we hope the weight of her anguish does not extinguish the faint hope she nurtures inside that someone will hear, will help. Soon. To end her wait.

In her own words:


Open doors of Hope
letting go toward the body of earth
          towards each other
                    even what’s flowing inside of my veins.


Second chance
Breathing again.
You’re the only one who can give me

Please, Do.
Maybe it’s the way I might wait?
Depending on you, I do.

Do Something.
Please. Do.

Show me the way I should wait.
Seeing your hands of transparency which call me . . .
          Where do you bring me?
                    Where do I belong?
                              Where my amazing son sings songs?


Promise me you do everything you can
to bring me whereever you want

Soon . . .
Promise me.

Breathing. Faith. Energy. Hope.
All of these are below zero.

          Soon . . .
         Promise me
before my precious mom goes.


The Courage to Tell Our Stories

It takes courage to tell our stories.-Christina Baldwin

Discovering this practice of courage… requires a skilled listening, . . . to get under the surface of what is being said. To learn this practice of courage we need time and space to breathe freely, to be vulnerable, to speak honestly with one another. – Annie G.Rogers

We’ve had more than one group focus on the courage it takes to tell our own stories. This bears repeating. We carry ourselves in each story we tell. We carry each other in the hearing. We are revealed in ways we can’t predict or control. Writing is a leap, a fall, a catch, a risk that surprises us in its intensity. To overcome this takes courage.

The women who return to the group overcome again and again. Their stories are not told all at once but in layers, deepening the more times and ways they are told. As the story grows, each woman’s skill grows and the stories sharpen into focus, each woman reflected more completely and bravely on the page.  Continue reading