what is love



Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage. Lao Tzu

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Love the moment and the energy of that moment will spread beyond all boundaries. Corita Kent

This week, we began a month celebrating love. We live in what has been called, at best, “interesting times.” We decided, as a counter measure and as support, to focus our month on love – celebrating it, discussing it, and exploring it through art and writing. We began this month with the writings of Pablo Neruda whose line in his Sonnet XVII “I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,” resonated with all of us. It may appear that a prison is a place where love does not go but it is even more important here than elsewhere. How can love be fostered behind prison walls? How can it reach in and reach out?

In the poems below, you will read the beginnings of these explorations by a group of writers delineating for themselves and on the page what it means to love and be loved.


Love should be unconditional and
straightforward. Love should be
honest and sincere. Love should be
a form of respect toward one
another. I feel love should be
wholesome and fulfilling. I don’t believe
objects should take the place of love.
When you are loved, you feel wanted
and need like your emotional well-being
is being met. When you have struggled
with getting the love that you have longed for
all your life, there is a void that comes
from within, an emptiness that is succumbed
by wants and desires that may be unhealthy
or have negative repercussions or consequences.
You become fueled by the desire to fill a thirst
or hunger that wants what the heart wants
because for a huge part of your life, you have felt
subdued by suppressive emotions, a huge part
of you has always felt like a black hole
of nothingness, a blob of unloving complicated
feelings of a sadness so deep, no one might ever
understand because your human self is so complex
and full of despair what do you do with this do
you try to bury it like it never happened – no embrace it
and make your voice heard because
we all deserve love.


*** Continue reading

finding home

“Whatever we live through becomes real to us as we turn raw experience into the story of what’s happening.”  Christina Baldwin,  The Power of Personal Writing

By loving and caring for our natural seasons we protect our lives from being dragged into someone else’s rhythm, someone else’s dance, someone else’s hunger.” Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run with the Wolves

Last week we completed our summer study of ‘Sealskin, Soulskin,’ the retelling of the selkie myth by Clarissa Pinkola Estes in her probing and revelatory Women Who Run with the Wolves. The story reminds women of the need to return to the wildish nature from time to time as part of the cycle of health and well-being. Themes of home, seasons, solitude,  nurture and body memory emerged in the week’s writing from the reading, epigraphs, and discussion.

We completed the study by coloring images from Deborah Koff-Chapin’s wonderful new Soul Touch Coloring Journals. In many cases the drawings linked thematically to the writings. 

Below, a few excerpts and accompanying artwork as a way of sharing our writing experience at summer’s end:

I get heated within my own body, my own skin. It gets me boiling deep inside. It feels as though my body is on fire, that I’m burning from the inside out. As we turn a raw experience into the story of what’s happening, my entire body begins to tremble and shake. Shaking so fast it becomes uncontrollable to stop…  – AS

We as people start out alone, all one. We can choose to stay that way – intentional solitude. Creating conversation between our mind and soul. To me it comes natural, for I have accomplished this for so long. Sometimes I live in my head, going about the life I’m living. Many years of practice helped me through trauma; what was in my head never came to light. Days now when my mind and soul are conversing, I hear God speaking to my soul. I feel Him in my heart. I ask what I need, He listens and I hear. I love this natural, intentional solitude. – CMP

Reading these poems and dreaming of you … the warmth your love brings me. If only I could embrace the joy that you bring me and fill my soul to the brim somehow. Like a lost child without direction, I often felt – until we met and our worlds collided. Whenever I feel the weight of all the world’s pressure drowning me … sinking deeper and deeper into this sea of emotions, I try to swim. But it’s no use. Your love is the only thing that can save me …  – MEG

perseverance and hope

“. . . women ‘hear each other into speech’ . . . making it possible for women to say things they have never said before, to think thoughts they would have suppressed. . . . new stories are born, and women who hear and tell their stories are inspired to create new life possibilities for themselves and all women.” – Carol Christ, Diving Deep and Surfacing

never-give-upLast week, in place of our regular weekly class, we opened the circle to include invited guests. There were inmates from other units. Also mentors from the community, as well as those who support our work on the outside. All told, we had close to 40 seated in a large open circle in the multi-purpose room inside CRCF.

Ten writers’ works were read, and everyone participated in read-back lines. As a result, we have a robust ‘found poem’ from those lines. In addition, everyone participated in sharing their thoughts after hearing the readings, in the form of ‘what do you take with you and what do you leave behind as a result of this evenings’ words?’

The comments were powerful and perceptive; and since we only do this twice a year, it feels important to share at least some of them here. Through these comments, those not present for the reading may get a small sense of the charged atmosphere of the small windowless room. Thanks also to our assistants in the audience who seamlessly helped quiet passing throngs of loud inmates; organize pad and pen distribution and retrieval; and keep things moving smoothly from start to finish.


I will remember the applause! I take words of wisdom with me. I hope I left behind good memories.

The read-around is amazing. It was nice to hear everyone’s words, especially about families. I will remember all the words that I have heard tonight. And how I took it all into my heart. Thank you for tonight 🙂

Hearing these voices, I am hopeful for each speaker’s future. It was inspiring to hear joy, fear, hope, anger, understanding — all in an hour. Encouragement, I hope.

“One voice … a sentence can change history.” Healing voices can heal others. The butterfly effect.

I am taking away a great appreciation for the women around me. Those that continually fight an endless battle to love, be loved and feel acceptance. A greater curiosity of the mothers who fought for the privileges I carry with me now.

What did you take with you tonight? All the magic of the words; the expressions of all those faces and hum of the voices. What do you want to leave behind? The sadness that I do not come to the class as often as I want.

I will take with me a grounded sense of hope. I will leave behind judgment.

I will take with me the strength of perseverance from those within. I will leave behind hope for all still there that they can maintain hope and optimism for their futures.

I take nothing but I gain everything from the willingness of these writers to share with us. I leave behind my thanks for the perspective of people in my community.

I will take the knowledge that every soul is a diamond. I leave the bonds that link us as friends and travelers on the same road.

Take with me – beauty, even in dark places. Leave behind – the idea that beauty happens only in happy places.

I am taking the enjoyment of the whole group. I will see you again. I’m taking the thought of not being alone with me.

Take with – appreciation for the effort to move toward the light.

I will take inspiration and hope for a better tomorrow for women who have been or are incarcerated. I’ll leave the pain and sorrow.

I will take away a sense that writing and sharing about sadness is helpful. I will leave behind my admiration for the strength it takes to be, and to write and to carry on.

I will take the positive words that were so well put together from the group. They were amazing poems. Well done, ladies. Thank you!

Take with you – I will take the words of all the readers in my heart. Leave behind – my last read-around and work with awesome facilitators.

I will take the courage, the perseverance, the ability to find some laughs. I will leave behind a bit of my heart and some prayers for everyone in the room.

Emotions everyone put into writing will stay with me. Fear of unknown I leave behind.

I didn’t expect what I heard this evening – it was great, such good writers. Very powerful. Wisdom.

I will take grace and encouragement. I will leave behind my emptiness.

Continue reading

what we know of love

abstract-love-wallpaperWanting to be loved, “I love you,” was what I said… from ‘Full Circle’ by Alden Nowlan

You never see it coming but always see it leaving./It waits by the door, bags packed,/full of stones from your life. from ‘What Love Cannot Do’ by January Gill O’Neil

Valentine’s Day is a mixed bag inside prison. On the one hand, everyone wants to remember – and be remembered by – loved ones on the outside. Yet, for those who do not receive any kind of remembrance, the day can feel hollow, lonely, far weightier than its Hallmark intentions.

Come to think of it, this is not unlike grade-school scenarios of my youth – the popular kids raking in the candy-coated heart-filled valentines while the rest of us walked around empty-handed and -hearted. Or simply dis-heartened.

So it’s a challenge to navigate. Last week we aimed for a middle approach by offering writing prompts that could be interpreted a variety of ways; then turned to making actual physical valentines with traditional red, pink and purple paper, complete with glittery tape, white markers and some red ‘I Love You’s’ in cut-outs. The dozen women around the table jumped whole-heartedly into both activities, producing memories, yearning, fiction and highly original valentines for their children and loved ones. Continue reading

listening for love

Let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you really love. – Rumi

When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand. Ideas actually begin to grow within us and come to life. – Brenda Ueland


We’ve been moving slowly through February, battling the winter doldrums and bitter cold. The intent for the night’s group was to move from love of self to love of other to love of community. To do this, we worked with Parker Palmer’s five habits of the heart. While women jumped to discuss many of the ideas, their writing continued to focus on the tense and ever-shifting relationship with themselves or in love with another. This felt important. These are the bonds that create community is small steps, many many small connections. Love demonstrated profoundly in one room, one body, one mind can set the model for a town, country, globe.

They talked about life-long loves, life-long struggles, their children–loves and lives they’ve brought into the world– and addiction, a strangling kind of love that impedes all others. We have certain kinds of love stories we are told: fairy tales, romantic comedies, sitcoms. These are tidy formulas. None of us had tidy love stories. The equations they wrote defied reason, unturned gravity, begged for absorption or renewal. They carried contradiction in each line. Here was the messy nuance of love, the model that cannot be followed except through trial, accident, epiphany.

Continue reading