happy accidents

happy accident - sherripatterson

credit – sherri patterson

Last post, I wrote about the monthly writing group we have been offering mentors trained by Mercy Connections and their incarcerated mentees. From September through June for the past several years, we have used this group time to strengthen relationships between the mentors and their mentees; as well as to foster an active community of trust among all the women.

It has been our hope that both paired and group relationships would deepen and become more effective on the outside as a result of this early bonding. Likewise, we anticipated the possibility that enthusiasm for the groups inside might carry over to the outside, and provide additional support for mentoring success over time.

As things have worked out, writing inside VT will no longer be holding these groups for the mentors and their mentees. Instead, it is up to Mercy Connections to continue the popular groups at their discretion. With huge gratitude for the strong support of all who participated over the years – and with sadness at curtailing my circling activities going forward – I wish everyone new paths to connection and creativity. Who knows, perhaps our ways will meet again in the future. I certainly hope so. Continue reading

writing with mentors

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Mentor/mentee pair sharing a moment at the 2013 book launch of HEAR ME, SEE ME: Incarcerated Women Write

For the past several years, we at writing inside VT have offered a monthly writing group inside CRCF for those women with mentors trained through the mentoring program at Mercy Connections. While not formally associated with that program, writing inside VT has helped established strong bonds between mentors and their mentees by providing time and space for them to become acquainted in a structured setting.

As with all writing inside VT groups, we open with a poem – generally one that explores a seasonal theme – and move into writing time. Initially, writing is shared between mentor and mentee, followed by about 45 minutes of visiting time. Following this paired sharing time, we  invite each woman to read her words within the larger group – usually 12 to 18 around the circle.

Popularity of the mentor/mentee group has only increased with the years; mentors have asked if they can come to a group even if they no longer have a mentee inside! Or they ask if they can participate together on the outside to help maintain the bonds established on the inside. We continue to explore these possibilities, and have recently approached Mercy Connections to consider connecting our program more directly to theirs.

We have always taken July and August off from the mentor/mentee writing groups due to scheduling difficulties during the summer months. Therefore, this post honors the experience of the mentor/mentee writers inside CRCF with a sampling of their comments about what they most appreciate about writing inside VT:

I appreciate how creative, intelligent and serious the other members of the group are.

I appreciate most seeing my mentor and being able to leave my unit for a fun creative group.

Love the sharing; love the writing; love being with my mentor; love being with these brave women.

Spending time with people who care and understand.

I love the structure/ritual of the group. Thank you.

Sharing my thoughts in a non-judgmental environment.

I can open up and write down my feelings.

The gifts are an opportunity to see mentee; be vulnerable with each other; share words/advice/experience through our writings.

Gifts – the opportunity to enter the world – one step in – of so many newly known women. The opportunity to experience a structured writing session. The opportunity to get to know my mentee better.

To be real with people, just to be able to smile and have people hear you.

I feel lighter now because I’ve shared some of my hopes and fears with others. And in doing so, I shared them with myself.

These sisters are amazing human beings. They inspire me.

There is always something/many things new I learn.

writinginsideVT adds new program!

We are thrilled to announce that we are now writing ‘inside’ with mentor-mentee pairs from the Vermont Women’s Mentoring Program!

This mentoring program links incarcerated women at Chittenden Correctional Facility to supportive women mentors from the local community, who can provide meaningful advice throughout the reentry process. (It is a partnership between Vermont Works for Women, Mercy Connections and the Department of Corrections.)

Sarah and I envisioned facilitating writing circles for this unique grouping nearly a year ago, sensing that our model could help deepen the relationships between mentors and mentees getting to know one another.  We were graced with the presence of five mentor-mentee pairs for the kick-off circle last Sunday!

Soul Armor by Emily Steiner Franz

Together we wrote to the prompt a costume I’d need in the world I hadn’t entered yet … from the poem “Costumes” by Sharon Charde.  I’ve included two pieces from new ‘inside’ writers.  Read on.

*    *    *    *

The perfect costume for a world I have not entered yet. I guess that would be an invisible force field that would keep all evil away from me. I would be free to roam about, and wouldn’t have to worry about the demons of my past sneaking up on me and pulling me down.

I’m getting ready to enter a new world alright. The world of sobriety. The open world of sobriety, not surrounded by a barbed wire fence that has kept me away from my past – also my past away from me. 

Now I’m a few weeks away from walking beyond this fence. And I’m ready. I have a suit made of armor. My invisible force field.  –MD    Continue reading