why is that?

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Last night’s writing group at Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility was cancelled due to lockdown. Why is that? There are a number of possible reasons, none of which was shared with us. Ironically, the previous week we had a lively group of inmates committed to coming weekly and a team equally committed to being there.

But lockdowns happen in prison. So in lieu of sharing new writing, I’m posting the ‘found poem’ created with lines heard from each of the dozen or so women present last week. The writings ranged from feelings about community to courage in words and the value of writing — and just about everything in between. Why is that? Because each group is deep and thought-provoking.

WHY IS THAT? – found poem

If no one cared about me I would be heart-broken.
There is so much more to learn about us,
new stories being hatched, gasping for air,
counting seconds and breathing.

I struggle with what to write,
this fear like a heat lamp.
Will they judge me for feeling,
not seeing what was always there?
How can a feeling be wrong?
My words strip me bare –
my troubles, sorrows and dreams
fear being loved,
trapped in this time zone.

What can I do with my disappointment?
It’s very difficult, this tight spot I’m in,
my loneliness that has hardened into glass.
Certainty has a damaged past, but curiosity has gotten over it,
learns information about the tone and color of my insides.

Truth is, you have to care about yourself,
tiptoe into a new atmosphere.
You may find out something you never knew.
Curiosity knows no boundaries, is an unwritten book.

How could one so meek write a lion’s roar?
I wonder if by the time I leave here I will be someone else
lighter, lightening, almost ready to strike.
Possibility grants us both roots and wings,
a new beginning and maybe a different ending.
What is possible?
Real listening,
more chocolate, bubble baths, and women laughing.

‘for a new beginning’

cliff jumpingIt is a new year. Inside Vermont’s women’s prison, the sense of change, of review and renewal, permeates the circle as we meet for the first time since the holidays. We open with John O’Donohue’s powerful poem, “For a New Beginning” (see Prompt of the Week for full text). The women nod vigorously, underline phrases that hold their attention, vie to be first to share their understanding of the poem. Clearly, they are eager to grab their pens and spend 20 minutes writing their hearts out. And they do. After which we read our writing around the circle.

Each face tells how spellbound its listening owner is as we take turns sharing our desires for our own new beginnings. One of the women observes how everyone has something they want to change; and yet how different the things are, how differently they are written about.

Waiting moment by moment to hear “today!,” JL continues to bide her time prior to release – a day she has been anticipating for a couple of weeks now. Meanwhile, she joyfully joins the circle which, in her words, ‘opened a lightness and ease of the anxiety I had been holding for the unknown.’ Below, her writing from the evening’s group:

            from ‘A New Beginning,’ by John O’Donohue

How is this possible? Doesn’t the word ‘risk’ itself evoke feelings of danger, insecurity, and fear? It’s risky to dive off a cliff into water below. How do I know I won’t be crushed by rocks unseen beneath the surface of blue?

Holding nothing back is still, however, my greatest desire for this year. I want to live in this skin, this beautifully tangled mess of eccentricity, imperfection, and emotion. I want to let my light shine. I can feel the glow growing, warmth, humor; a spectacular array of characteristics that have made me the person I am today.

I want to risk things larger than a cliff-dive into the ocean: living my dreams, allowing myself to accept that I am a writer, growth without a man to fall back on (or to have to hold up, which has generally been my life’s scenario). I want to be at ease with the fact that I love myself, and don’t need or care about the way others perceive me.

I want to be courageous and prove the doubters wrong. I have been burning for far too long; I have scars so deep they reach my soul. With all that burning, there must be a light of some kind and I see it . . . through my sober eyes, through my laughter, through the reflections of loved ones beginning to see possibility in me once again.

So, how is this possible? I may not have all the answers yet; but ask me again next year, because that is exactly what I intend to do . . .  release, unclench, believe that anything is possible. This is my new beginning.