my fate – in your hands

I’ve added a component to the weekly writing circle called “news to share.”

"Fate in Your Hands" Laura Siegel Collection

“Fate in Your Hands”
Laura Siegel Collection

It’s an opportunity for the jailed women who come together from six distinct units to report in on latest happenings in their lives.

The first time I introduced this idea, I didn’t expect much response. Ten minutes later, we had learned about the recent death of a beloved grandfather, a daughter’s first steps, a son’s 16th birthday, a painful anniversary, and a visit from a far-away friend.

The theme of this week’s news “download” was upcoming court decisions that will affect several women’s lives in potentially dramatic ways.

One inmate awaits an Interstate Compact from a neighboring state that will allow her to be released to family instead of serving time at Chittenden Correctional Facility for lack of local housing.

Another plans to change her plea and is wracked with anxiety over the pros and cons of making such an adjustment. It’s nearly impossible to know how this move could affect the years she has left to serve.

The third goes to the court house on Wednesday and could be released from there to home confinement, or the decision could be “NO,” and she would be returned to the facility that afternoon, an agonizing prospect in anyone’s mind. Continue reading

what is saving your life?

Soul Card by Deborah Koff-Chapin

Soul Card by Deborah Koff-Chapin

Our writing prompt this week was direct and to the point: what is saving your life right now?

Another way to say the same thing – what keeps you sane at this moment in time or holds your world together? (In a prison facility such lifelines can be quite basic, like a hot shower or unexpected compassion from a stranger.)

I happened upon this compelling question recently while reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s memoir An Altar in the World. When a person posed this query to her, she likened it to (metaphorically) yanking the china-laden cloth off the table of her life – and making immediate room for truth.

Coincidentally this week in writing about what saves us, a column I penned for the National Catholic Reporter about our newly released book Hear Me, See Me: Incarcerated Women Write and the writing inside VT program came out in print. (Thanks Mike Leach for the opportunity!)

As I reread the article, it occurred to me that this weekly writing circle in Vermont’s sole women’s prison “saves my life” in very real ways from time to time.

I can think of two specific ways to start…

Participation allows me to enter a space with other women where truth-telling is paramount; where soul connections are of a high priority; and there is little-to-no room for slick and varnished appearances (something that can wear me to the bone).   Continue reading

the sweetest of reunions



‘Twas the sweetest of reunions…

Nine formerly imprisoned women now living in various communities throughout Vermont converged on Burlington’s Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center last Thursday evening, Oct. 3, for the book release of Hear Me, See Me: Incarcerated Women Write.

We had written with these women over the course of four years at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility – they, once outfitted in gray sweats and flip-flops, writing together in stark rooms ascreech with slamming metal doors, and many many interruptions.

Now this Thursday night, each of them strode down the Film House aisle in heels, dresses, sequins, form-fitting skinny jeans, with hair freshly styled and makeup applied. Their faces communicated a mixture of eagerness and nerves, yet they overflowed with joyful presence to see us and each other.

Each woman writer – Angie, Belinda, Raven, Margarita, Tess, Valerie, Michele, Joellen, and Stacy – took a seat up front, held the microphone in turn, and read slowly and deliberately her own words from the pages of this just-released book of incarcerated women’s writings.  Continue reading

keeping mothers and children together

Mother & Child by Bev Draper  (Sorrento, Italy)

Mother & Child by Bev Draper
(Sorrento, Italy)

The latest endorsement for our soon-to-be-published book Hear Me, See Me: Incarcerated Women Write arrived this week.

It comes from Elizabeth Gaynes, J.D., executive director, of The Osborne Association in New York City. One of Osborne’s missions is to advocate for and develop alternatives to incarceration that respect the dignity of people and their capacity to change.

In particular, Osborne works to support and develop programs that keep mothers and their children together while a woman is serving her sentence. JusticeHouse, a 45-bed program in Brooklyn announced this week that will allow carefully screened women with felonies to live with and continue to care for their children with supervision.

The participants will be visited several times a week by case managers, receive counseling about jobs, schools, and parenting. Some will be required to have treatment for drug addiction and mental illness.

The aim is to undergird and hopefully strengthen the mother-child relationship during this precarious time.  Continue reading

letters to self

Write me a letter by jinterwas

Write me a letter by jinterwas

I am jazzed when an incarcerated woman gets really honest with herself in the circle.

..when she writes openly about the seamier side of life as an addict or hustler before imprisonment and names the temptations that still haunt her thoughts.

In my own experience, it’s difficult to disempower negative behavior and mindset in oneself until you begin naming the ‘demons’ clearly, along with your underlying motivations (what you’ve been getting out of it all).

Add to that process, the power of a circle of listening women witnessing to your forthright revelations with compassion and non-judgement, and you have a space for healing to begin or continue.

This week KG got real honest, writing a letter to that part of herself that sometimes feels drawn to return to chaotic, irresponsible living.

Next, she called upon the wise woman part of herself that she has been cultivating over the months with excellent help from numerous program providers in the prison facility. And she responded to the first letter with a second, full of what she is learning and understanding.  Read on…

*    *    *

(Letter to Self)

Hey, how are you? I bet you can’t wait until you get out, so you can roll up a phat blunt with the homies. I see you got a couple of addresses and numbers from a few people here. I know that’s for when you max, you can come back and find a good place to hustle. Don’t worry, I got ya back with that. Make sure you get rid of all those lame-ass people numbers and get with the ones who know where to get the bupes. 

And that cover letter you’re working on, forget about it. Nobody even uses those things any more. You don’t need a work readiness certificate.  What’s it genna get you, top pay? And all those days you go out on work crew, why don’t you stay at home and put your feet up and relax?

Just looking out for you. Love you.  – KG   Continue reading