influence by example

teaching by example

credit bruno liljefors

“Example is not the main thing in influencing other people. It is the only thing.” – Albert Einstein

Examples of ways women in prison have been influenced by others abound – and are often neither pretty nor inspiring. Except to suggest a path to significant change. So when we offered the suggestion to tell of a time one of these incarcerated women writers had positively influenced another person, we were delighted that the range of stories included AA’s moving account of working with, understanding and impacting an autistic child.


She was just 15 and knew what she wanted to do. That she is me. I knew I wanted to teach young children. I had worked at this daycare for two summers now, once a week and vacations during the school year.

I loved my job working as the one-to-one aide with Seamus. He was a wonderful little boy to work with. He had autism and the teachers didn’t really like working with him a lot. They tried to treat him like a baby even though he was five. They made him be in the two-year-old classroom because of his special needs. They put him in diapers and wouldn’t let him play with the others for fear he’d hit them or something worse. I tried to include him whenever I could get away with it. He never hit me and he never hit any one of the other children. The teachers that weren’t the best and would yell or be rough got hit a lot. With me, he’d smile and sometimes squeal out something like ‘drr – drr – drr – doo’. He couldn’t speak other than stuff like that, but I could tell what he wanted. Continue reading

manifest respect

respectThursday last we held our twice-yearly Read Around inside Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility – the evening our writing women share their words with invited guests, some from outside the facility and many from other units within.

Each time we do this, a predictable sequence of emotion shudders through the group. It starts with nervous jitters, morphs into relief after each woman has read, and by the end, coalesces into a sense of shared community, a deep connected unity. Women’s underlying support for one another, their silent cheer leading, all come together in this shared celebration of vulnerability and strength, of loss and hope.

This past week’s event was no exception. What WAS exceptional, however, was the mutual respect in the room.

Throughout the entire event – from introductory remarks by Co-Director Marybeth Redmond announcing the finalization of the cover art for our forthcoming book of these very women’s writings and welcoming special guests including our eagerly involved funders; to the final moments of sharing a gratitude for the evening from each person in the room – the respect within and for the circle was manifest.

In particular, inmates from other units were attentively engaged; quietly participatory; enthusiastic in offering feedback; and pleasantly social post-reading as they mingled with cookies, lemonade and conversation. More than one reader was moved to comment and thank them. And, as evidenced by the cards collected at the end of the reading, guests and readers were of one mind.

What this telling does NOT reveal is that previous readings have emitted a very different vibe. So what has changed? The coalescing of our core group of writers into a true community, one that takes pride in its shared practices of deep listening and mutual respect. We receive what we give. And on this particular evening, the women of the writinginsidevt circle experienced that reciprocity with their guests. THIS was an evening of manifest respect.

What follow are but a sampling of the 35 comments in response to the prompt, what are you taking with you from tonight’s read-around, and what are you leaving behind?

“The peace and happiness and thoughts I put into this group every week.”

“I’ll take the memory of the strong, honest and painful words I heard today, and will leave behind respect.” Continue reading

a letter from outside

thanks to

She’s been out maybe three months. In that time, she has continued to mail me her poems; asking for input, suggestions, my honest appraisal of their publishability. She is patient when I cannot respond by return mail. She remains grateful for the ongoing connection we have maintained thus far, in this fashion. Each time I hear from her I am humbled by her efforts, her willingness to stretch, her desire to change.

Yesterday, I received the following note from her even, round-lettered hand in blue ballpoint pen:

“Dear Sarah,

Thank you for your honesty and very helpful suggestions. It’s greatly appreciated! I am in the process of re-writing “Fascination” and will eventually re-submit it to you.

Also, thank you so much for the anthology. It’s wonderful. There’s some amazing work in there . . .  and so much of it for only three months.

I miss the circle so very deeply – it was my salvation while at CRCF. It is, for a lot of women, a reason to get up in the morning. What you do is more than teach. You show us how to be creative and expressive. You give us encouragement and tips. You make us feel VALUED. I wish I could still be there on Thursday nights. Your class was amazing. Thank you, Sarah!

I’ll be in touch. Please, give all the ladies my very best.