in preparation



“Advent is a winter training camp for those who desire peace. By reflection and prayer, by reading and meditation, we can make our hearts a place where a blessing of peace would desire to abide.”

“Life is a constant Advent season: we are continually waiting to become, to discover, to complete, to fulfill. Hope, struggle, fear, expectation and fulfillment are all part of our Advent experience.”

“It is the beautiful task of Advent to awaken in all of us memories of goodness
and thus to open doors of hope.”

Last week, we wrote on the peace and hope we find in this season and how to prepare. How does somebody prepare for peace? Often, in winter and before our various winter gatherings, the preparation is in food and gifts, clothing yourself to bear the weather. On the inside, we prepare differently. The writers say that the holidays are a difficult time for them, being separate from family and these traditional preparations. They explore finding new rituals to honor the season. We prepare by writing together, calling up and sharing our traditions and memories, and bearing witness to each other.

In the writings below, you will hear a few accounts of their experience to which we bore a snow-like witness, their words as footfalls on the page.


Before long, I will celebrate Easter,
a most holy Christian holiday.
I will smell the ham cooking.
I will set a beautiful table.
I will be so busy; I just can’t wait.
And I will focus on the ride home
chauffeured by my son in
his lime green Geico car.
Three smiling faces will greet me:
Nick, Angelo, and Abigail.
I wonder if that trip will be quick
or will it seem to last forever.
I picture my front door of red
adorned with a brass knocker
that displays a welcoming pineapple.
My hands will surely be shaking
as I grab the shiny ornate handle,
my cheeks will burn
from the constant smile on my face.
My heart will rejoice as
I take my first step,
over the threshold, a tear will fall.
I am joyful and triumphant.
This is my last Christmas here. Hark!

*** Continue reading

the stories inside

black and white lotus flower

In Asian languages, the word for ‘mind’ and the word for ‘heart’ are same. So if you’re not hearing mindfulness in some deep way as heartfulness, you’re not really understanding it. Compassion and kindness towards oneself are intrinsically woven into it. You could think of mindfulness as wise and affectionate attention.Jon Kabat-Zinn

We sit together each week sharing the stories at Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility. In one of our agreements, we state that we “do not promote writing that is emotionally violent, that is attacking of self or others.” This creates a necessary boundary between the emotional reality of each writer’s experience and the challenging truths in our stories. Most of the time, we have no idea what each writer is in for beyond what a writer tells us. We also don’t know the specifics of any trauma endured or great triumphs they’ve experienced. Whether we are inmates, facilitators, volunteers, mentors, we speak, we write in big abstracts: addiction, obsession, depression, hope, truth, peace, hate, death, abuse but we almost never hear or use details. This is intentional. We focus our time on the development of voice and writing skill, speaking in larger lessons and messages of hope. 

But there are other story telling spaces in the prison. All day, there are women coming together in informal circles chatting, regaling, laughing, crying, dreaming. This means the mundane, the celebratory, the tragic, the traumatic. It is as true inside as it is outside. Inevitably, there are things we don’t want to hear, stories so sad or cruel that we can’t imagine the path that led to it or the path we must all walk away from it. Once we hear a story, it is a part of us, a part of the world we carry on our backs like Atlas, heavier and heavier over time. We cultivate the strength through writing and other practices but sometimes it is too much and we ask ourselves, what do we do? Or how and why? We want to set it down, our own loads heavy enough.

The question then becomes, how can we hold the truth of the world? How can knowing the truth be an asset, build strength and compassion rather than breaking us further down? Both in and out of our writing circle, we grapple with this. We attempt to create a mindful practice where these stories can be both told and heard, and that these skills can be carried into all our conversations. Below is one woman’s experience with these questions.

Dragging Days

Everyday I see or hear
something that more or less kills me inside.
These days drag by like honey dripping from a jar.
I wonder will it ever end?
It’s hard to think I’m trapped in a place I can’t
be free.
To hear horror stories of others,
I instruct myself over and over, to pray.
This life is not for me, my mom and dad did not
raise me this way.
To hear a story of a mom first injecting
their daughter for the first time hit hard.
Why, I ask why??
To be given away to DCF custody at such a young
age, or not being able to love on my babies.
I know now my mom and dad raised me now:
sheltered, sheltered from the truth of this cruel,
cruel world.
Truth that evil things take place and sadness does happen
in very dramatic ways.
Addiction is a sick sickness. I’m blessed not to have an
addiction to drugs or alcohol. I thank my parents
for that.
How does this end I cry?
It doesn’t. It is the truth.
Everyday I see or hear something that more
or less kills me inside.


cutting paths

path in woods

Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet. – Thich Nhat Hanh

In the end, just three things matter:
How well we have lived
How well we have loved
How well we have learned to let go.
Jack Kornfield


Making change looks a lot like cutting paths. There are paths, trenches, river beds well worn and established that our minds run over and over, re-inscribing. These are cognitive landscapes that are well-explored and often sweet places to live or the only places to live, at least for a little while. If they weren’t, we would never have made them.

After a while these paths become dead ends, cul-de-sacs, you get the idea. You get stuck in the same old places, patterns, sometimes without knowing it. And, it is a lot easier to get stuck when you are forced to literally stay in one place. We started a mindfulness unit this month with the intent of expanding that repetitive space in the mind and between the walls. Continue reading

geography of Rumi’s wisdom

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.

mevlana jelaluddin rumi – 13th century

This week we studied Rumi. This 13th-century Persian poet, jurist, theologian, and Sufi mystic wrote work that transcends his time to resonate with wisdom in readers, thinkers, seekers, feelers. As we read, we felt this: each word dropped into the space between us and created the field of which he speaks. Our discussion centered on where that field is, what it is, where we can live in the possibility of peace.

As communities, we create the structures of space and time that dictate how we live our lives. This is apparent in the extreme in prison. Everything is simplified and restricted: clothing, food, rooms, time, communication. How can peace or expression exist without the freedom of this field, an imagined sun or tall grasses, distance from the physical boundaries surround us?

Continue reading

peace outside the wire

peace outside the wire

credit – dragonart

In our monthly group for women with mentors outside the prison, writing is but a small portion of the time together. It is a seed that starts a common discussion between mentor and mentee.

After paired conversation, we listen to every woman’s words around the larger circle – another layer, building community, trust and understanding. This sharing of experience and feeling creates bonds that root deeper than the words than created them.

This week, one woman’s words capture the essence of life ‘inside’ in simple, stark terms that echo long after they are heard. Likewise, may her search for peace resonate into reality outside the wire.  Continue reading