“We open/ a persimmon seed to find the tree/that stands in promise,/pale in the seed’s marrow.” from ‘The Wild Geese’ by Wendell Berry

With an underlying theme arising from the above epigraph – ‘the promise in the seed’ – we opened last week’s group to a couple of new ideas. First, we had about 15 minutes of pure socializing time before getting down to write. This was a request in response to the challenge of maintaining silent focus on the writing for an entire group. Our second novelty was incorporating a celebration into our circle time, complete with fresh oranges, popcorn and punch. Again, in response to a direct request the week before. After all, we were coming into prison to write between Christmas and New Year’s – a time we usually take off. So it felt particularly important to incorporate the wishes and needs of our writers.

To blend the themes of fruit and seed, we opened with an excerpt from Li Young-Lee’s lengthy and multi-layered poem, “Persimmons.” Writing prompted by lines from the poem sprouted in many directions, from darkest despair to fondest memories to in-the-moment sensory instructions for peeling an orange. Some of these writings appear below for you to read. While it is not possible to share every writing on this site, we hope this sampling gives you a taste of the variety, depth and immediacy of our writers’ expressiveness. Who knows – their words may seed something in you as you read. Do let us know what moved you by leaving a comment below!


I gave him the orange
swelled, heavy as sadness,
and sweet as love.
How our lives made us work,
work very hard. For in the end,
your prize will be sweetest orange
that you have ever tasted.

Yes, mistrust, lies and awful people
made us make this hard shell around us
just like orange peel. It’s hard,
untouchable, resistant and protective
over the soft sweet juicy body
that holds so secretly together. Continue reading

layers of loss

For a woman in prison, the layers of loss over a lifetime are thick and plentiful.

layers of loss

Layers of Nature
by imageseekertoo

The stories I hear in the writing circle convince me that nearly all incarcerated women have experienced not just one, but several traumatic losses as children or teens.

These usually include: loss of a beloved family member who held their world together, or the loss of physical safety, or the loss of innocence.

Almost universally, this intensive loss remains unresolved in heart and mind, and rears its ugly head at some later date.

Drug use occurs as a way to mask the erupting feelings.  And criminal activity begins as a way to fund the drug habit, or to survive, or to keep a dysfunctional male relationship intact.

This week, we used former U.S. poet-laureate Stanley Kunitz’s The Layers as our muse.  Continue reading

reach for more

'Winter Beauty' hybrid honeysuckle

‘Winter Beauty’ hybrid honeysuckle

As is my custom, each week I create a ‘found poem’ from lines written the previous week by women participating in the writing inside circle. This is a particularly interesting challenge for those weeks when I am not present as facilitator. Reading these lines ‘cold’ and out of context simply prompts me to find the thread that will tie them together. Perhaps the result is a narrative, or perhaps, a mood-setting vignette of condensed and coalesced memory. Either way, I am as eager as the dozen or so expectant faces turned toward the reader of those combined lines to gauge the pulse of the resulting piece. Did I capture something? Does it speak to them? Does it resonate with their original intention(s) or distort their individual voice so much they cannot even recognize their own words?

It is important to understand that, for these women, this is much more than an exercise. It is an opportunity for them to shine; for their words to mingle into a mixed message of hope, longing, despair; for them to see themselves, through their words, as part of something bigger than their own thoughts and feelings, to become part of a communal tapestry of experience. A slice of life, if you will.

So when a long-time writer with the group pronounced the following ‘found poem’ “just beautiful” as she asked to read it last Thursday, I listened with extra attention to sense how it would hit her sister writers, now prepped to receive with her assessment. What I heard was the gentle hum of mmm’s around the table as they recognized both their part and the whole they had become part of creating, a brand-new expression of love, loss and longing that started with individual’s writing on Valentine’s Day one week prior.

Hear the clock –  tick, tock –
it’s time I must go
retrace the steps of everywhere I’ve been:
the drugs, the crazy nights, the binges;
back to the 15-year-old version of myself
I was taught and shown in a strange way.
If I were able to erase all the scars,
I’d be able to open my eyes and see
we outspent the repercussions. Continue reading

grieving together

Grief by Tessa Maurer

We learned of the death of one of our former writers last evening.  K had been released from Chittenden Correctional Facility a short time ago.  Her central aims were to beat her addiction and be reunited with her children.  Tragically, her addiction won out.

Last evening’s circle of 13 writers provided a life-affirming, sacred space in which the women could process the loss of their friend and write about their own addiction fears.

By happenstance, three of K’s longtime fellow writers were back ‘inside’ due to probation violations, so they too were able to process her death in the healthiest of ways–within the womb of supportive community.  It was a rich session in which one woman gave thanks that K was now free of this great burden.

K was wide-eyed that addiction was her downfall.  She wrote about this on more than one occasion.  Here is the last piece she wrote with writinginsideVT:


It’s hard to believe I have two beautiful babies. Who would ever know considering that I, their mother, do not care for them the way mothers do. I, a selfish, rotten, junky, drug-addicted mother, care more for drugs than my children. I know what you’re thinking, “How can a mother be so heartless?” And I can’t answer you! I know it’s a awful thing, but at least I can admit it. I wish it were not true. I have lost everything and didn’t care, but I tell you now–there is only time left to care about my children and not myself, and that means doing what it takes to keep my family together.

Our prayers and positive energy go out to her children.