one and many revolutions

plants growing out of broken concrete

Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete? Proving nature’s laws wrong, it learned to walk without having feet. Funny, it seems to by keeping its dreams; it learned to breathe fresh air. Long live the rose that grew from concrete when no one else even cared. Tupac Shakur, The Rose That Grew from Concrete
This week, we read Nikki Giovanni’s “Revolutionary Dreams” and wrote our own revolutionary cries. In the poem, Giovanni remembers the gentleness of the natural revolution of simply being natural, naturally a woman, naturally herself. It is a revolution that is one and many at the same time, a choice each moment that changes the course of an entire life.

There were elements of our group last Thursday that came together as naturally as a seed opening to its own seedling. Other elements were as tough as concrete, trying to break through years of doubt and fear to hear each other and hear our own words. In working together to weave our words, we ran into the triumphs and challenges of making something as a group. But that is how truth emerges, through struggle and working together.

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hope – faded or arrived?

credit - lightfestreignited

credit – lightfestreignited

All last week’s energy swirling about the universe – spring equinox/super moon/total eclipse – has found its counterpart inside Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility. The fire that burns away a past each woman is trying to relinquish has recently burst anew into fiery passion, nearly as incarnate as the famed phoenix itself.

Women are energized by new ideas of self-worth, goals for change, projects to help move them forward in their lives and beyond these bars. They catch courage from the stories shared by others they might not otherwise have listened to. They find support and permission to voice their stories, to reflect on their choices, and to begin earnest change for a life that feeds rather than diminishes them.

The writer whose words appear below has written with us from the five-year-back beginning of this program. She has been out several times; and every time, some aspect of her history of addiction trips her up and sends her reeling back inside. See how this past week’s epigraphs on hunger and nurture impacted her in-group writing:

My body remembers what it/means to love slowly./What it means to start/from scratch. Slow lovers/of women. The secret is/starting from scratch.
– from ‘Making Tortillas,’ by Alicia Gaspar de Alba.

How long it can take a woman to achieve a degree of balance around appetites, to learn to feed herself and to understand and honor the body; and to hunger for things that are genuinely sustaining instead of hungering for decoys.
– Caroline Knapp from Appetites

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surprised by words

Christmas night, my two daughters and I went inside to surprise our writers with an unplanned holiday writing and art group. It should not have surprised us that the usual chaos reigned — the familiar indecision, conflict, and low morale. I admit, I had hoped the women might welcome the opportunity to do something unexpected on an otherwise emotionally challenging night.

Of course, I was wrong. Surprise is not what keeps these women going. Hope, yes. Consistency and predictability as well. Indeed, this is one reason the writing inside VT program has continued to thrive as we conclude our fifth year. Showing up weekly, regardless of attendance, turnover and weekly distractions has been one of our hallmarks.

Along, of course, with predictability in how we operate.

So we entered the halls with stillness and creativity as co-themes and experiences for our 90 minute session. The seven women who showed up seemed to truly understand and appreciate our offering. They wrote to a line from the opening Poem for Flight, by Becky Birtha; they created collage; and wrote a second time reflecting on their created image. Every woman shared artwork and both writings as well.

As always, their words held the wisdom and depth I experience each week. By now, I am no longer surprised by their words; just humbled and grateful to witness them. The following samples represent the variety of writings inspired that night:


by rp


They say to follow your dreams, and I think that is a valuable piece of wisdom. However, sometimes achieving our dreams isn’t the point of following them. It’s about the following part, the journey. The journey can be full of hardships, detours, getting lost and even beauty. Journeys are usually described as being “full of danger” or “a grand adventures.” Often times, the journey changes people, transforms them in some way they never knew was possible. And, there are times when you are following your dreams, somewhere along the line, your dream changes. Along the journey, you discover a whole new dream you’ve never dreamt was possible. Dreams are what keeps the journey alive and ultimately, have the power to transform even the most skeptical and fearful of dreamers.


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reach for more

'Winter Beauty' hybrid honeysuckle

‘Winter Beauty’ hybrid honeysuckle

As is my custom, each week I create a ‘found poem’ from lines written the previous week by women participating in the writing inside circle. This is a particularly interesting challenge for those weeks when I am not present as facilitator. Reading these lines ‘cold’ and out of context simply prompts me to find the thread that will tie them together. Perhaps the result is a narrative, or perhaps, a mood-setting vignette of condensed and coalesced memory. Either way, I am as eager as the dozen or so expectant faces turned toward the reader of those combined lines to gauge the pulse of the resulting piece. Did I capture something? Does it speak to them? Does it resonate with their original intention(s) or distort their individual voice so much they cannot even recognize their own words?

It is important to understand that, for these women, this is much more than an exercise. It is an opportunity for them to shine; for their words to mingle into a mixed message of hope, longing, despair; for them to see themselves, through their words, as part of something bigger than their own thoughts and feelings, to become part of a communal tapestry of experience. A slice of life, if you will.

So when a long-time writer with the group pronounced the following ‘found poem’ “just beautiful” as she asked to read it last Thursday, I listened with extra attention to sense how it would hit her sister writers, now prepped to receive with her assessment. What I heard was the gentle hum of mmm’s around the table as they recognized both their part and the whole they had become part of creating, a brand-new expression of love, loss and longing that started with individual’s writing on Valentine’s Day one week prior.

Hear the clock –  tick, tock –
it’s time I must go
retrace the steps of everywhere I’ve been:
the drugs, the crazy nights, the binges;
back to the 15-year-old version of myself
I was taught and shown in a strange way.
If I were able to erase all the scars,
I’d be able to open my eyes and see
we outspent the repercussions. Continue reading

chance to shine

By Wilma 1962/Flickr

Tonight in our inside writing group, we had a large number of women new to the circle. It never surprises me that someone might feel too shy to share, too vulnerable to write her truth, too shamed to make eye contact. On the other hand, what never ceases to surprise and awe is the raw hunger to be heard that drives women to the circle, to pen their pain and speak it aloud. Through tears, through it all.

One such writer joined us tonight. Not only did she write powerful painful words; she made her way through reading them. At the end, she wrote ‘this is a terrible and a wonderful class: sharing was both a gift and a challenge.’

When I was young I had dreams; not fabulous dreams, just Future Me. I could see a writer, a singer, or maybe a mother. Someone with worth to the world. Someone who would be remembered as a benefit, or a person to look up to. Not revered. Just appreciated.

As I looked forward, I could see me accomplishing this for my kids and the ones that I love. To look into their eyes and see pride and love. But what I see now is contempt and sadness. I have no control over what has passed; yet I am totally responsible. I may have been lied about. No one cares to hear the truth.

So here I sit, unable to change what has passed. Always looking to the future. Hoping for the dream to unfold. Waiting for my turn to see the pride. And hoping for my chance to shine.

– LS