Thursday 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