notes to self

writing woman

“Letter writing can be seen as a gift because someone has taken his/her time to write and think and express love.”Soraya Diase Coffelt

This month, we are focusing on letter writing and correspondence – the letter, the postcard, notes, all written forms of communication meant to carry words from one to another on paper. The women inside are avid letter writers. They don’t have access to the internet and phone time is limited so a letter is a line drawn from their hands to those they care about. Each conversation is a record, a body they shape before they send them out of the prison like paper doves.

This week, when we asked “What lifted you this week and what weighed you down?” one woman answered:

Being able to write my words and thoughts freely; When the guard came in, I realized I was in jail again.

A letter is a place where our written freedoms can live in relationship, where the liberty we choose for ourselves can be heard, remembered, put in writing. Each writer is his or herself in the room of the page both in jail and independent of jail. We can even reflect that freedom back to ourselves, mirror it in words as though we promise it will come into being. The letter is a note to another and a note to self: remember, to get the bills paid, remember, that I care for you, remember, who you are. While the jail is a constant reality, each writer can create another one, invites themselves and another into that free space.

In the two pieces below, the women are addressing themselves as much as an audience, creating a world where even the elements support their written and literal of acts self-liberation:

Note to Self


We’re going on a walk today. Go, jump and run and yell and shout. TO be free from the worry and despair of everyday life. We walk along the winding road, kicking stones as we go. Dancing as one as the sun and clouds make their way for rain. We see the tree we’ve got to make it to, as lightning flares and the thunder booms. Splashing through the puddles as we run like children. Huddled underneath the boughs of leaves, under the willow tree, we hug and sing a song and say a prayer to help us carry on.



Cold Spring Shedding

The cold spring has eased. The ice finally melted into the lumpy muddy road. My car’s been smacked underneath and thrown sideways like beans and tumbling dice.

I ride 50+ miles everyday, passing beautiful lit up hills. Grey, brown and gold sticks and branches texture across the horizon. The silence touches the horses and soft human steps.

Sliding away, I leave for town with no fan fare. I say “Hello”, “Good-day” and “Good-night” that’s it. We used to embrace and cling. We come home at different times now and cook our separate meals. Our broken love is stiff as cardboard.

And the screen door still swings too fast, out of my hands. A relic we saved from the dump. It helped keep the icy air out. I will leave in summer. Almost 10 full years from when we meet at summers end.

My eyes are dry, my skin ready to shed. Shedding this weight. The weight of hanging on.

I may take a long walk to reset my default switches. And burn calories never reached while driving too many hours and miles.

Shedding is like submerging under water, and capturing a new momentum. Perhaps I will learn to move and loco-mote like a dolphin, or at least a person with adventure and joy.




an empty truth

All great truths begin as blasphemies.  – G.B. Shaw                            

The pursuit of truth will set you free; even if you never catch up with it. – Clarence Darrow

As we close our unit on truth this month, I leave you with a reflection from one of our women below. In one of the stories we discussed, the narrator speaks of an empty truth. On the surface, the phrase seems like a contradiction, as though such a truth would be meaningless. But our group appreciated the phrase, reflected that such a truth is not meaningless but simple. There is often a plainness or clarity to the truths that endure.

But to achieve these truths and to view them as self-evident is a complex process. It requires engagement, risk, faith, all qualities and experience the women describe as vital to their growth within the walls of the prison. It is a process that must be lived for each truth to be embodied. Each of us almost have to act out the truths in our words and actions to understand them. Here, one of the writers reflects on this process and its role in expression.

Truth Telling

That is being true to yourself, searching, growing, and expressing yourself for you and no one else. If your following the crowd, you get lost and it can lead to soul-sickness. Walking up in a life you never envisioned. Conditions you have to deal with because your choices were not yours.

To be able to do that one must not be afraid. One must be their own spirit detective to find who they are to find meaning, satisfaction, and joy. As Janis Joplin sings “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” is an anthem of being true to one’s self. Continue reading

vantage points of love


Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes. – Antonio Machado from Last Night as I was Sleeping


After echoing these lines back and forth one of the women wrote, Love: an ancient concept. Love don’t love nobody. From our differing vantage points, we wrote on love from its sharpest angles. We each sat on the keen lip of prism side looking in, waiting for whatever light would shine through. Machado made us believe that kind of fire was possible and with every written breath we questioned it, reveled in it.

In the writings below you will find the grind of love, the painful bind of love, the hope for freedom that breeds self-love, the challenge love offers, and the gauntlet these women are willing to take up. And further, in the negative space between the words, you’ll see what was created: witnessing as an act of love. In the split between love and fear, here, fear feels derivative, a feeling only felt when love is threatened or taken away. In the end, it is all love. It is just like she said: Love loves everybody.

So what if he eats his ice cream upside down or his mushy oatmeal by turning over his spoon just before it gets in his mouth? Why does this irk me? And if he doesn’t like the same music as me, is he somehow defective?

These may seem like small things, but when repeated they feel like pushing fur backwards on a cat with tacky glue on my hands. Something in my nervous system has taken notes for year and tells me he’s weird. I judge him. Then I pull away. My soft heart becomes cooked, hard-boiled. And I don’t give the extra hug or speak with open eyes.

Continue reading

the sometimes fictional me

becomingyourself2Two weeks back, we wrote about our perceived imperfections, based on the poem of the same name by Elizabeth Carlson. Her opening line is “I’m learning to fall in love with my imperfections,” which set the stage for writing about how each woman’s perceptions of and feelings about herself have shifted over time. While many women chose to write directly from the poem, even incorporating specific lines or concepts from the poem, others used the ideas as a jumping off point for writing that might have gone in a different direction.

The interesting thing about the weekly practice of creating a ‘found poem’ from the lines written in group is putting these disparate and often unrelated writings into one coherent context. It is a challenge. It is also a delight for the women to hear their own words mingling with one another’s in unexpected ways. As often happens, this particular poem elicited squeals of delight as women recognized their own phrases and leaned into a new interpretation of them as a communal effort.


I don’t think I could have wished my life as me,
let my needs be trampled by my need for equanimity,
in love with people who abused me,
the empty pit in my heart
suppressing my spirit –
a girl who didn’t know how to ask for help,
for freedom from jail, DOC, snow, oppressive heat.

Reality is impermanence,
something missing in my life.
I have lost my family.
I used to be quiet,
knew what to say and when
as if in perfect command.
Now I am lonely and insecure
not who I used to know, but who I know now. Continue reading

i am waiting for me

Marilyn Kalish

One of the most anticipated moments in each inside writing circle comes near the end, just before the final chime signals the close. It is the moment when one of the 14-plus women around the circle hopes to be the one to read the week’s ‘found’ poem – a weaving of words written, spoken and recorded the previous week by the women in the circle. These words find their way into a poem that is in the truest sense a community creation.

The resulting piece is wholly new and different from any one of the previous week’s writings, at the same time as it contains the seed and memory of each woman’s individual writing. It is a gift to us all, both anticipated and cherished around the circle. In fact, last night one of our long-time writers emphatically declared that these poems are so powerful in their own right, they deserve to become an independent publication. Duly noted!

Some days I am emotionless
my heart waiting for me
to get rid of being scared
to be carefree;

waiting for the months to pass
to embrace life in a new context
bring truth from my past forward.
It’s OK through my actions to change,

for love’s gravity to pull me close to center
plant her foot firmly in my life.
My past may creep up on me –
always felt like I was in a cocoon,
a prisoner to my addiction –

my truth is, it’s time to let loose. Continue reading