hearts in Boston

By Saildog Photography

By Saildog Photography

Our hearts are with the people of Boston today in the aftermath of the marathon tragedy.

In dire times like these, it is easy to succumb to hopelessness about our world, the human condition, maybe our own lives.

Instead we remain a people of hope, offering light touches of blessing and compassion where we can — today, tomorrow and the next.

This ‘found poem,’ composed of the woven words of the incarcerated women writers during a past circle together, reminds me of the daily exercise we are called to …

… one of acknowledging the suffering around us (not living in denial), yet starting over in heart and mind, refocusing our lenses to see the beauty, care and grace swirling all around us as well.

STARTING OVER

Good times become a memory,
dreams lost through selfishness.
I’m tired of living this life
waiting to be reborn in this stone cold place –
overcoming shame, my wrongdoings;
tossed and tattered, I scream — but will anyone
listen? The size of sadness cuts back like a knife.

I’m lonely, scared, terrified. I’ve pleaded
and prayed for a way to make it right,
seeking things I don’t deserve.
This life has molded me.

But good can come from nothing.

With a clean slate, I begin again,
validate these desires to start fresh
and start over, to better myself, tickle the soul
and warm the heart; to come and go as I please,
light candles in winter trees holding on
to the Divine, a good break to a bad end.

What am I waiting for?
Let me out into the snow
letting go of this life-sentence;
let me walk out of here with a smile
breathing in each different season
guided from the stars.
Let the year shine.

ocean of mercy

Swimming in the Rain, Camilla Massu

Swimming in the Rain, Camilla Massu

When life seems circuitous, random and potentially unpredictable, I remember this invocation by TD, one of our very first writinginsideVT participants.

(She’s still in the writing circle, soon to be released from prison.)

I reach for her words “I Am Here” as a kind of personal salve. Her’s is a prayer of surrender to a loving God, the Divine, or whatever that loving/living Presence is for you.

“I Am Here” is featured prominently in our book-to-be, Hear Me, See Me: Incarcerated Women Write, coming out in September.  I was reminded of the piece this week, reviewing the book’s proofs prior to publication.

Reading it again brought me peace, a sense of being held, a reduction in my personal fear factor.

The job that didn’t materialize for me last week, the sense of isolation that pervaded my day today, and the waywardness of my life direction as of late–all seemed to fade as these words spread over me like an ocean of mercy.  May they bring you comfort as well.


I AM HERE

God is an ocean of mercy . . . Collapse into God’s arms and you’ll weep like a child.” —Rumi

It is me, your daughter.
I am here, in your light.
Your grace has given me many blessings.
It is me whom you loved,
no matter the number of my faults.  Continue reading

book news!

Our super-terrific editor at Orbis Books, Mike Leach, forwarded us the (nearly final) cover of Hear Me, See Me: Incarcerated Women Write this week.

Ta-Dah!!!

Hear Me See Me cover 2

“Sure to become a classic,” says Sister Helen Prejean, author, Dead Man Walking, at the top of the jacket.

And as we speak, co-creator Sarah Bartlett is knee-deep in the 200-plus page proofs of the book.  I’m next to review–yikes!

For those of you new to this writinginsideVT project, Hear Me, See Me is a collection of powerful, unvarnished prose and poetry by women imprisoned in Vermont, survivors of every kind of trauma, abuse, and addiction, whose individual and collective works explore and transcend the physical and spiritual trials of their lives.

It’s due out in September, and (drumroll, please), it’s now available on Amazon for pre-order, so please feel free to reserve your copy.

We also secured some nifty endorsements this week too.   Continue reading

powerless to connect

Caught in the Web / andimariee

Caught in the Web / andimariee

Certain incarcerated women can be “tough numbers” at times.

A mood or depression overcomes them, and it’s nearly impossible to access the meaningful connection you’ve cultivated with them over months and years of writing together.

No doubt they feel trapped inside their uncontrollable swirlings of personality–anger, sadness, bitterness, and mental illness in many cases.

On occasion, some fail even to make eye contact with you when you call them for group despite a poignant interaction the day before.

..which is what I encountered entering “Delta” unit on Friday night to corral a handful of them for a program. Four women were engrossed in a game of Rumy and proclaimed vociferously:

“We started working outside this morning, got up at 6, exhausted, just gonna play cards and go to bed.”

End of conversation.

These women are my most dedicated participants and their collective decision to skip class would have a sizable impact on leadership of the group this night.

I felt sloughed off, another mistrusted person in their eyes. But mostly, I felt powerless.

What happened from yesterday to today? Why won’t they look at my face? Why are they missing the circle, when it would provide the very validation and nourishment they need most? And clearly they had made a “group decision” to miss class together.

Sometimes it’s easy to take the attitudes and behaviors of these women inmates personally.  To feel discouraged. To be pissed–ergo, I’m giving up my Friday night to be in a prison facility with inmates not showing up?!

And then I breathe, and I breathe again.

Later this evening, I brush my teeth before sleep and an insight comes.  The four playing cards together and chatting like friends are some of the very same women who wouldn’t even speak to each another in my class eight weeks ago.

One of these women had even penned on an evaluation, “Not interested in getting to know anyone. Just gonna keep my head down til I get out.”

And it dawns on me that there they sat, playing cards, laughing and talking, ignoring me, yes, but really, who knows or understands the mysteries of this ‘inside’ work and what it accomplishes.

Shall I judge it all with my limited understanding, or simply continue to be a calm, consistent presence ‘inside’ who trusts that all is playing out exactly as it needs to.

a plea for kindness

Circle of Sisters

Circle of Sisters

Tensions flare. Personalities clash. Outbursts erupt. Judgements creep in. Kindness can be found in short supply when living in a close-quartered prison unit with 30-40 other women.

As facilitators, we sense the negative dynamics running between inmates before a word is even spoken.  Only rarely will a writer storm out of the circle upon another woman’s entrance in order to make her personal protest obvious.

..which is why we at writinginsideVT have several guidelines, but one in particular that we articulate aloud at every circle: interpersonal conflicts from the unit stay on the unit.  In other words, check your issues with each other at the door.

Yet in a surprising twist this week, one of our longer-term writers decided to address some of the backbiting in her unit head-on. (Our writing theme was kindness.)

Normally this kind of transparency might fall flat.

Yet in my view, CS did a masterful job of naming the negativity that has been swirling in her wing of the building, claimed her responsibility in it, and called her “sisters” as she referred to them, to a higher level of living together. On top of that, she read her piece with care and respect.

Nods, exhalations, and expressions of “beautiful” were the responses shared by all around the circle.

It is more than inspiring to witness these women coming to model healthy, mature behavior with each other.

Enjoy CS’s plea for kindness:

WHERE HAS THE KINDNESS GONE?

As I sit here among
the kindest creature
there should be of us all,
I sit in thought of how
wrong this really is …
Myself amongst these women,
we are supposed to be kind, loving,
nurturing and loyal mothers,
sisters, friends, neighbors,
and wives.

All I see is nothing

but drama, lies, hatred,
fighting, belittling.
Shall I go on – no,
because you all know what I mean.   Continue reading