UVM student initiative

from students to entrepreneurs

The other day I received a cryptic call. After a few moments I learned that, once again and out of the clear blue, writing inside VT is the subject of an unsolicited PR/fundraising effort.

It happened a year or two back, when we received a generous check from a local congregation. The accompanying note explained that writing inside VT had been chosen the worthy non-profit recipient of the week’s Sunday collection. Quite aside from my curiosity as to how individuals not directly involved with us actually hear about or find us, these incidents move me. Deeply.

A few weeks back it happened again. This time, a UVM student called to ask if we would be the focus of a student fund-raising project. A team of 10 students from a variety of disciplines who have come together in a class on entrepreneurship have been charged with creating a pop-up commercial venture. Their personal interests intersect at gender equality, criminal justice and women’s issues. Which is how they found us.

For six to eight weeks, they will have two slots/week on camput to sell something which they have designed and produced. Their goal is to start a conversation about incarceration. When me met, I jotted down the list of impacts they wanted from their project: connection, building social capital, rehumanizing and validating the incarcerated in an authentic way to raise awareness about criminal justice reform. A tall order by any standard.

They are mid-project right now. Their product is still under development. Working with a copy of HEAR ME, SEE ME: Incarcerated Women Write and their own brainstorming, initiative and energythey will choose artwork and empowering quotable lines to create their product.

Stay tuned for more information as the plan unfolds!

synthesis – part 2

As mentioned in the previous post, we created visual mosaics after our writing last session. The invitation was to consider placing the visual within a large circle to indicate the sense of the moment, as a mandala does.

Our materials were simple: torn pieces of bright-colored magazine pictures of landscapes, animals, sunsets, black-and-white trees — plus shreds of bright tissue papers. It is always surprising to see the range of products from similar materials, as well as the variation in feeling that can be created from such simple materials.

The few images below capture some of the intensity and mood variations around the table that night. Please do enjoy them.

grateful days

VI holiday card

artwork by assistant victoria irwin from 11/19/15 group

We have so much to be thankful for, even though it may not always appear thus. Both inside and out, for instance, this year has brought an abundance of support for writing inside VT.

Our first-ever individual appeal has almost hit its target of $6000 toward our annual operating expenses, the balance of which will be sought in grants. We are so very grateful for your belief in our work and your financial support to continue it into our seventh year.

We have added an advisory board of seven wise and thoughtful women who bring a breadth and depth of experience and passion to guiding us forward.

We have increased our facilitation team by two assistants and a guest facilitator.

Most of all, we have managed to continue to hold weekly writing groups inside Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in South Burlington, VT — despite a hiatus in funding support and several personal issues that have taken some of us out of the picture for periods of time this fall.

Inside, the inmates have continued to produce soul-searching writing and artwork; and are even contemplating a new book of their work. It seems everywhere leaders are emerging and creativity is blossoming.

May the coming year bring its own abundance and unity to you, in your heart, your life, your work and your world community.

loving minutes

valentine background

credit – bistro39sandiego

Last week, anticipating Valentine’s Day, I went inside prepared to embrace or diss the Hallmark moment based on the mood of the group. Good thing. Although most of the gathered eight women professed varying degrees of dislike toward the fabricated once-a-year commercial lovefest, it was clear that some residue of longing clung to the date.

So I offered a two-part challenge. First was to write a love poem in a tight and limited form: three stanzas of four lines, where the first line held eight syllables, the next three just four each. The sum total of syllables equals 60 – hence called ‘The Minute.’ This was an admitted challenge for several, involving as it did some fundamental concepts of math and grammar. But they slogged through; two of them produced precisely the form suggested.

For the final half hour, they eagerly glued red silky ribbon, white doilies and pink plastic hearts to purple or lavendar cardstock, penning their messages of love in white opaque pen with a singularity of purpose. Sadly, I cannot share images of this work, as cameras are not permitted inside. Suffice it to say, some heartfelt messages and extremely creative artwork left the room, along with broad smiles and shared sadness at the group ending. Those were some loving minutes spent together!

With all the cells of my body
those cells love you.
Once I die, and
turn into ash

my love is so strong, anyone
who comes near you
will know how much
I love you, and

nobody in the history
of love ever
loved someone more
than I love you.


*   *   *

I never imagined this love
til I knew you;
sharing yourself
opens my heart.

Know that I’m yours for you are mine
x’s and o’s
for you, lover;
our hearts belong.

You’re a gift that keeps on giving
our love above
‘tis forever.


healing power of nature

Linda Keagle

Linda Keagle

The outside yard at Chittenden Correctional Facility is very small in comparison to the acres of land that Vermont’s incarcerated women used to walk (and garden) at the Swanton prison up north.  The women are allowed outside three times per week.

After a recent visit to the yard, one of our writinginsideVT participants penned the poem below.  ED’s piece demonstrates the healing power of the natural world for these women residing in a facility devoid of color and beauty, as well as connects them to a vision of more hopeful days beyond the razor wire.

Loveliness in Nature

The ground beneath my feet –
moist earth clinging to my shoes,
to be outside is quite a treat,
what a way to shake the blues.

Sunshine beating down on me
leaving me tanned in its glow,
it’s my favorite place to be,
better than any other that I know.

A hawk circles gracefully
beneath the puffy clouds –
it glides along so easily
without ever making a sound.

I stop to admire a butterfly
on the razor wire,
then it softly flutters by,
going effortlessly higher.

The splendors of nature
are there for all to enjoy,
beautiful things that endure,
on display for every girl and boy.

There’s a loveliness to be found,
even in this awful place
here, in nature, beauty abounds,
despite the tight, cramped space.

It’s now heading for sundown,
so, it’s back to my dark cell –
I can’t help but frown,
going back into that hell.