weaving women’s lives

credit - artsatmit

credit – artsatmit

Intense silence among 35 women plus CRCF Superintendent Adams circled up in the visiting room. Temperature rising as fire and laughter erupt from readers. Tissues passed from hand to hand as tears flow, eyes dabbed dry, noses wiped. Voices raised in triumph, lowered in uncertainty; words whispered in prayer, spat in anger; hands clenched, waving, emphasizing point after point. All of this circling round and round the attentive deep listening of a reading inside the women’s prison in South Burlington, VT.

It started with a poem created from the words of a prior week’s writing group. A dozen women then chose their pieces, reading political rants and personal confessions, yearning for change and proclaiming it. By the end, women clumped together to share ideas for how they can improve conditions and opportunities for themselves inside while munching on fresh-baked cookies; or hugged one another in gratitude and appreciation for their courage in speaking out.

Comments echoed through the room reflecting what had been stirred through words: ‘love, all over, everywhere . . .’, ‘acceptance and belonging . . .’, ‘I feel connected to other women . . .’, ‘I am not alone… Strength, courage and togetherness. Freedom from the monotony of our self – induced imprisonment,’ ‘the room is so full – of life/emotion – my heart is stirring with all the potential and courageousness in this room…’ ‘My heart is filled with compassion and hope…’, ‘a reckoning, a revolution, a movement, spark/change…’, ‘inner strength, accomplishment, confidence, self-love, hope . . .


I love the idea of women’s insight and wisdom,
our vast emergent experience
commanding compassionate presence
by listening with a full heart.

Take our herstory: women who stood up
fire in their eyes and passion in their voices
even walking through a dark doorway alone;
to laugh, let go and let silliness reign;
stirring the pot with one hand,
pounding the dough into compliant loaves —
weaving their stories into ours and out again.

I am more than grateful
for a support system of strong women
daily working in a state of grace.
Before I didn’t care about these things;
it was a firm line we dared not cross,
a mockery of the possible strung with pain.

Ash is no match for the spark
of collaborative intimacy.
The love and loyalty we all deserve –
a seed growing, held, encouraged –
are our most outstanding features
working together hand over hand.

I know I am not weak or delicate;
I am a survivor, and one day
my voice will be heard.

*poem created from 3/4/15 mentor/mentee writing group read-back lines

‘for years I have longed for . . .’

This phrase was offered last week for the women writing inside Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility to start their writing during group time. Many tender pieces emerged, including this one. DB, who wrote it, was unable to read it aloud. But at the end of group, she wrote ‘I have to learn to read my work aloud, especially when it’s about my children. Maybe it will help me in the end.’ Comments like this reinforce the value to the individual of writing and having her words witnessed. Her quickly-written response to the prompt follows:

“For years I longed for . . . . someone to call me mom, look up to me for advice, guidance, send them to school. I finally got that opportunity and I fucked up worse than I ever could have. I’m sitting in jail with no one to call my own. Continue reading