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.



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

3 milestones

CHSVT graduation by Marybeth Redmond

This week, we witnessed one of our long-term ‘inside’ writers graduate from the Community High School of Vermont!  Seated atop the sanctuary of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Burlington, TD “turned the tassel” of her mortarboard and officially earned her GED after many years of diligent work.  Family and friends overflowed with words of pride and congratulations.  CHSVT staff planned the graduation in an illustrious location beyond the confines of Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility, so as to create an indelible memory for TD about this momentous achievement.

Next, we hosted our semi-annual “Read-Around” event at the Chittenden facility this past Thursday evening.  Within a sacred circle of 50 seated inside the prison visiting room, 17 women-writers read their poetry and prose to the amazement of listeners.  Our generous writinginsideVT benefactors attended for the first-time ever!  It was a stunning evening…raw, real, emotional, insightful…each guest leaving deeply touched.  The women-writers were buoyed to have their words “find good ears” among so many supportive folks.

Finally this week, Commissioner of Corrections Andy Pallito announced the appointment of Bob Arnell as superintendent of the Chittenden facility.  Might I say that Sarah and I are pinching ourselves?!  Superintendent Arnell took over as interim leader of a chaotic and troublesome facility last April.  In spite of early criticisms of many program providers, he saw us as collaborators and forged strong relationships with us, allowing us to be his ‘eyes and ears’ within the facility.  Needless to say, there is still much work to be accomplished as Superintendent Arnell would readily admit.  Yet the women’s prison facility seems headed in a more holistic, gender-responsive, trauma-informed direction–way to go!

whirlwind of advocacy

State seal of Vermont

“It’s been a whirlwind week of advocacy for Vermont’s incarcerated women,” says Marybeth Redmond, co-director of writinginsideVT, who lent her journalistic expertise to fashioning, staging and presenting the White Paper entitled “Reclaiming Lost Ground for Vermont’s Incarcerated Women.” And contributed to follow-up press coverage including VT Digger’s “Report Slams Women’s Prison Facility.”

Hopefully our advocacy will move forward some serious re-assessment of promised programming. This population for the most part lacks opportunity (services, training, support) to turn their lives around and become the good parents and productive members of their local communities they both desire and deserve to be.