photo of wall installation called “Freed Spirit” at a restaurant in New Mexico

“You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.” ~ Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

“You must learn one thing. The world was made to be free in. Give up all the other worlds. Except the one in which you belong.” ~ David Whyte

Despair. Defiance. Determination. Deference.

Who knew that ‘liberation’ could conjure such a range of responses?

Pain. Platitudes. Perspective. Perseverance.

All this, and more. Written in 20 minutes around a table of a half dozen women committed to a weekly 90 minutes of focused, deep listening to one another and themselves. Inside prison… Determination. Perseverance.

By the words you speak, a world is born.
Insults can leave the insecure scorned.
You are a vessel, this life is the sea.
Stop sitting on the shore
living in your misery. You can’t even imagine
what this world has to give;
behind the walls of your entrapment
there’s a different way to live.

Wise men tell stories, philosophical quotes;
they don’t get all their wisdom from sailing their own boats.
They’ve walked plenty of day in someone else’s shoes,
they know what it means to be tattered and bruised.
They’ve met misery on their own steps,
been sunk under water in unfathomable depths.
But they don’t let that fear keep them silent.
They don’t let the abuse turn them violent.
They simply dust it off and walk away.
Tomorrow is a brand new day.

I don’t know about you, but they seem fine
by simply leaving the past behind.

– MGa


LIBERATION (excerpt)
I need liberation from my mother because she’s never put me first, ever, in her life. It’s always been the other way around. I’ve always had to take care of her and my grandparents, and it weighs heavy on my shoulders…



DREAMS (excerpt)
… To show and say,
YES, I CAN! I don’t need your judgments, persecutions or approval for that matter, because I believe in myself; and despite all my mistakes, I am better than you may perceive me. Your opinion does not matter to me anymore. I am going to choose to turn from your evilness and walk in the direction I so choose. I am letting go of you. I am tearing apart the seams that you seem to think bind us together. You can’t have me no more, I belong to Something Greater now and I choose better for myself because I am capable of so much more than you give me credit for. So I am done with all your unfaithfulness. I am choosing to dream a bigger dream for myself. It doesn’t include you. I’m letting go finally because you are not included in my dreams.

– MS


In this world we are in,
so much happens that
we feel we have no control.
Excuse my grammar, but
shit happens
and it weighs on you.

You were expecting a simple, but
Happy Day.
You woke in good spirits,
the morning seemed perfect; but
then your phone rings, and
all you hear is complaining
and gossip.

You feel like you should listen with empathy,
but instead
you say, I’m so sorry, but today is not good.
You hang up and
decide, Not Today.

You sip your coffee,
sit in the yard.
The birds are singing
a favorite song of mine.
I’m a groupie, I thought
and the music I hear
is my sweet inspiration.


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.

Continue reading

my heart, my well

Credit: Deborah Koff-Chapin

Sometimes, when I read over the writing done in our inside circles to transcribe them, I find it hard to believe – even though I was there! – that these words poured out on the spot, without revision or premeditation. They tumbled forth onto the page just as you read them here. In this case, prompted by the image (left), part of Deborah Koff-Chapin’s “Soul Card One” series.

Women love writing in response to these cards. As was true for tonight’s writer, quoted below, pain and despair live so close to the surface. Given the opportunity to write, she pulls the words straight from her heart and drives them home to ours.

My heart is a deep well
turned copper from too many pennies,
every hope, every dream.
Hope and love splatter my insides.
Hate and regret live there, too.
Dark scars from Self spread thin
unable to recognize myself.
Looking deep within
there’s barely a trace,
a faint glimpse of me deep in that well.

It’s me splattered everywhere,
everything I once believed in worn out.
Self fading. My well filling
with something I don’t recognize. Continue reading


It’s been a while since we posted a ‘found poem’ created by lines of women’s writing from a previous circle.

In this case, the lines were gathered at our ‘public’ reading of a number of pieces from several months. Therefore the theme is one created by the proximity of lines to one another and their entirety, rather than being in response to a particular prompt.

Behind me must be forgotten –
addiction, The Devil
critical of my hair
untamed, unhinged;
cupid’s careless arrow
plucked from the sky
swatting the air thick with
trust, love, hope and dreams
vulnerable to the game;
thinking there’s no danger is absurd. Continue reading