powerless - discoveryplace

credit – discoveryplace

In another week of prompts that arose from Women’s History Month, our writers this week tackled the tough issues of aligning action with attitude. Based on the impassioned writings and intense discussion that followed reading them, this group clearly understands the division between those who have power (The System) and those who do not (Themselves).

Sadly, the all-too-familiar story of injustice rises up again and again. Paradoxically, within our circle where we support respectful listening, acceptance and individual truth, opposite experiences tumbled out from mouth and heart over and over. They shared repeated experiences of utter lack of respect and understanding throughout the system (although the women were careful to name the few CO’s with a trace of compassion for them as people); experiences that spoke again and again to utter powerlessness. To the harshest punishments being meted out for the simplest attempts to stand up for what is right and fair.

The writings were impassioned and powerful. I am proud to be able to share some of them here as well as on our partner-site, Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform.   We on the outside need to understand that life doesn’t just go into suspended animation during a prison sentence. On the contrary, for many it is a daily fight to maintain perspective and sanity. The experience can be utterly disorienting, turning on its head what we might have been taught about cause and effect. Some say it is the very purpose of incarceration to do so. Continue reading

‘I am who I was . . . and more’

Raven signing the book

Raven signing the book

These seven simple words contain worlds of insight, compassion, gratitude and change.

They are the kernel of notes that keep coming to us in the aftermath of our book launch of HEAR ME, SEE ME: Incarcerated Women Write last week.

These seven words capture the experience of the listener who penned them in gratitude and awe after hearing nine previously-incarcerated women read their words from the book.

These same words have been re-stated in endless variation by others who were similarly moved by what they heard.

And they capture the essence of heartfelt thanks from the women writer-readers themselves. Writing changes us. ALL of us. Read on…    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

transitions remind us of gratitude

Tonight, we talked about the many transitions represented in our culture by the month of June: graduation/commencements; weddings; the solstice; end of school year; and so many more. For writinginsideVT, another transition is the end of our second grant from Vermont Arts Council and National Endowment for the Arts. We celebrated this past three months of amazing writing with the compilation and distribution of a 90-page anthology of writings from the women inside CRCF who write with us weekly.

In keeping with a spirit of gratitude for the many transitions we have overseen – women coming to voice, discovering what is most important to them, making healthier choices for their lives (to name a few) – as well as the abundant support we have garnered over the years for this work, we thought to share some gratitudes directly from the hands of participants themselves. Each week we end our writing circle with comments about the session – generally in the form of gifts/challenges; what worked/didn’t; and so on. Clearly we have far too many to share here. However, a few selected comments from the past three months will help you feel and understand the gratitude that keeps us coming back week after week:

Gifts – hearing everybody’s summer joy; made me happy and joyful. Challenges – inspiration for summer, since I’m in jail every summer.

Gifts – working with someone new, gaining their perspective. Challenges – to remain open to something I was unsure of.

What made me happy? just coming to group and being in a great environment. What made me sad? my writing made my emotions go crazy . . .

I was inspired by memories of my childhood hideaway; I was challenged in listening to compliments gracefully; I have always felt uncomfortable, but I’m learning.

Inspired me—seeing how strong we all have become; challenged me—saying goodbye to a friend.

The gifts were the women sharing their writings, their emotions. Challenges were reading what I wrote back to the group. Listening to my words being read gave my emotion substance.

I’m new to this group and it was good to hear the women express themselves in different ways other than hurtful, hateful ways.

Thanks for coming every chance you can.

I liked the way this group went, there was a lot of strong sentences, very powerful words which I related with on a personal level. Didn’t like being out of my comfort zone, pertaining to the way some of the poems made me feel. Hard reading out loud!!!

My respect for the women in this circle is what grew; Self-doubt shrank away somewhat.

I loved the poetry and the centeredness of the room atmosphere.

Grew: strength, hope, connection. Shrank: insecurity

I remembered what it was like to be 15 again. I forgot, temporarily . . . as I always do in group, that I was in jail.

What grew in me was my self-worth; what faded were negative thoughts regarding my past, thinking the damage that is done is unrepairable.

Grew: astonishment, admiration, humility—appreciation for the courage here, the love.  Faded: fear, feelings of inadequacy.