artwork by AG

At this time of year, there is so much waiting. Waiting for winter to end. Waiting for the first signs of spring. Waiting for spring to stay around long enough to enjoy. Waiting to shake off those winter blues. Waiting to feel better. Waiting to hear what the courts have to say. Waiting to go home.

Inside or out, waiting feels the same. It is mixed with memory, with apprehension, with love and despair. It comes in waves, sits like a boulder, dissipates vapor-like before us. Waiting holds all the weight of its negativity. Even joyful waiting can feel heavy because time slows down to such a painful, slow pace.

Although waiting was not the topic of any recent writing, the weight of time has seeped through many recent writings. Regret for past actions and waiting for time to set them right. Feeling that no matter how hard we try, things don’t change. Hoping against hope for love to buoy us up. Perhaps above all, the inside writing these days has a heaviness to it in contrast to the increasing light outside, the birdsong and sun and emerging color that lift spirits that live in them. Another reminder of the stark reality of ‘life’ behind concrete windowless walls.

make a parachute out of everything broken …

Down a long dark hallway
there’s a door.
To an average eye it’s just a door.
Behind the door lies a bedroom.
Punished, forced to stay.
Where to hide.
There isn’t enough hours in the day.
Her mother’s always distraught.
Her father’s at work.
There’s noone there to see the hurt.
In that very bedroom, dark shadows arise.
And curled up in her closet
the lonely girl cries.
She wants to run but it’s never worked before.
But if she stays, then
the pain will come so much more.
When she asks for help,
scolding is obtained.
For it’s only a lie and
the boy is being framed.
Sneak out your window, she’ll
give it one more try.
Too scared of the dark,
she can’t run, only cry.
Only 13, what can she do
when everything is broken.
Then the wind blew.
She climbs onto the roof from the woodpile first,
her heart beating so fact she swears it might burst.
If she was a bird, she’d just fly away.
But she couldn’t leave for five more years that May.
She dreamt of her pain and all she had felt
and wished she could charge her stars as she stared at Orion’s belt.
A parachute from her broken dreams, raised on a broken heart.
But one day she’d land and get a fresh start.


Now what do you want to do about it?
Well, my first reaction to my pent-up frustration is to argue and stand up for myself. But then I remind myself how close I am to leaving this place. And also I came here alone, and I’ll leave alone, even though I did end up with a couple people I think I can call my friends. I knew I was going to hate coming to jail and being confined. But I didn’t think about all the different personalities under one roof. That alone can drive someone crazy. But mixed together with all aspects of jail life is definitely not a place I want to keep coming back too. I feel as though I am being tested on a daily basis on skills I have learned while being here. I can proudly say “I’m winning, not getting a rise or reaction out of me” All I want is to live a happy life out in the real world. Surrounded by people that genuinely care about me and enjoy my company. At the end of the say, it’s just me I need to worry about, making the right decisions to get me out the doors to a better life.


My heart was once full,
I felt so complete.
I was filled with so much love,
I never skipped a beat.
Now my heart is broken,
and I feel so empty.
My insides are screaming,
someone please come and help me.
So much has happened in the past few years
from joy and happiness
to heartbreak and tears.
From working to not,
my kids here and then gone.
It seems like a lot,
and I’m not even done.
I’ve changed so much,
more than I ever thought I could.
I hate the direction I’m going –
it has done me no good.
So here’s where I stop
and turn my life around
before it’s too late
and I end up in the ground!

facets of joy



“Always leave enough time in your life to do something that makes you happy, satisfied, even joyous. That has more of an effect on economic well-being than any other single factor.” ~ Paul Hawken

“Contrary to what we usually believe… the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times—although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen. For a child, it could be placing with trembling fingers the last block on a tower she has built, higher than any she has built so far; for a swimmer, it could be trying to beat his own record; for a violinist, mastering an intricate musical passage. For each person there are thousands of opportunities, challenges to expand ourselves.” ~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” ~ Dr. Seuss

This week, we focused our attention on joy. Our writers drew from memory and poetry to discuss aspects of joy – what brings us joy and what diminishes joy. We identified the joyful moments in our lives as important marker points. This means that our joy is tied, inevitably, to identity. What makes us joy is linked to who we are. And learning who we are helps us feel guided toward living authentic lives. Joy is really difficult to achieve in the prison. Because of that, I’m going to hurry on to our writers’ words this week and let them speak for themselves.

Below, you’ll read our writers’ accounts of their joy and, by extension, accounts of themselves.

Joy Is

Being rocked by your mom starts joy.
Being a mom is also joy,
Playing with friends, at home or in school,
being with your pets, feeling their soft ears,
going on vacation, buying souvenirs,
eating with family, ending with dessert,
learning to drive, getting to take the car out,
sitting on the beach watching the waves roll in,
walking on the boardwalk watching the guys go by,
going on a date with butterflies inside,
enjoying wine, being asked to dance,
buying a new outfit, and 2 pairs of shoes,
cooking for a holiday, enjoying tradition
or being invited for a holiday at someone else’s house.
Food brings joy, ice cream, chocolate, Chinese food. Continue reading

within these crooked walls

3.16 DH -‘We are each spinning our individual threads, lending texture, color, pattern to the ‘big design’ that is serving us all’ – Karen Casey, American author

 I follow the thread of true self faithfully for a while. Then I lose it and find myself back in the dark, where fear drives me to search for the thread once again. – Parker Palmer, from ‘A Hidden Wholeness’

Last week we wrote on the threads that connect in our lives – inspired in part by the opening epigraphs (above) and by the short poem by William Stafford, ‘The Way it Is’ (which opens with “There is a thread that you follow.”

Writing spanned topics from family to abuse and addiction to hopeful love. But the best part came after the writing, when we returned to one of our favorite art projects: using string and ink to create random line forms that we later color to bring out what ‘appeared’ to each artist in the process. The image, above, was created by the writer, below. As she worked on the image, her feelings about the imagery shifted; the inside/outside nature of the work, including the hand reaching for and at the same time sliding away from happiness, is haunting in its clarity.


Wake up every day to the same routine.

Feeling like a robot who’s master sits in the bubble controlling my every move

Maybe I should be like the Joker and have a smile cut into my face?

‘Cause who knows happiness, what is it inside these walls?

Being let down and bullied?
Or controlled and humiliated?
Being tested like a lab rat with a different man-made concoction to keep me from snapping out on the population?

They call me a pistol because I pop off when people pull my trigger.

‘Cause who knows happiness?

Food that’s carb-packed to make you gain weight; and showers that go from 0 – 100 depending on the second.

Always searching for that one reason,
that one reason to be happy.

I’ll never find it within these walls.

That’s why I sleep my life away, and pray tomorrow brings a better day.

That way I can try and find some happiness within these crooked walls.


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