seen and heard

HEAR ME, SEE ME book authors insideLast week, we brought HEAR ME, SEE ME: Incarcerated Women Write to CRCF, enough for each woman currently inside who has ever written with us and chose to receive one.

About 17 writers streamed to our weekly meeting room clamoring for this long-awaited moment. Another 15 joined the line and left, book clutched to chest, no doubt to peruse the pages after laundry, kitchen or hall cleaning duties were done. A dozen women elected to stay with us for an impromptu reading.

Once again I was struck by the power of our process. Since we started the program four years back, we have sought to bring the voices of silenced women from inside themselves, and the prison, out to the world. We do this with regular blog posts, quarterly anthologies and semi-annual readings. We did this with the book and its launch.

And weekly, we do this in a modest circle in a windowless room through a safe, mirroring community that helps each of us see ourselves, hear ourselves and one another into awareness and speech.

We often refer to the ‘arc of experience’ a woman follows in her time inside, one we see intimately within the writing circle.  During last week’s book celebration inside, I saw that arc manifest in the responses of three different women. Continue reading

not giving in

credit - tumblr

credit – tumblr

After writing inside for more than three years with some of the same women, I find myself feeling like big sister-mother-aunt to them. I applaud their good choices; cheer for their release from prison; hold my breath once they’re out. I so want them to continue making the strong choices they pledged themselves to pre-release.

Many times my hopes are dashed along with theirs. When they return, some come right back to the writing circle’s safety and acceptance. Others appear to have forgotten all about us. Their shame can be overwhelming. This is when I know they, too, have come to regard me as a caring relative.

Working closely with two or three women who have gotten out, found work, and chosen clean living, I see first-hand the constant uphill challenges they face. Daily. Hourly. At night. Earlier today I met with one woman who confided that she hit a real low last week. Even her dreams called her to slip into the familiar oblivion offered by drugs. Continue reading

‘unclench the fist . . .’

forgivenessLast week’s writing circle fell on Valentine’s Day. In addition to writing about loves past, lost, or yet to be found, some women chose to respond to the epigraph that graced the top of the agenda. This time it was an extended quote from award-winning essayist Brian Doyle, which read in part: “What might we be if we rise and evolve …  if we unclench the fist and drop the dagger, if we emerge blinking from the fort and the stockade and the prison, if we smash away the steel from around our hearts … What then?” The extended quote is the final paragraph of this essay, in Orion Magazine, a moving writing about his son.

Read the wise words from inside writer MG, below, inspired by ‘if we unclench the fist and drop the dagger . . . ‘

Too frequently I stand yielding to anger, openly inviting it in without realizing what I’m giving a footstool to.  In the long run, only I suffer because those that I lash out on, knock down, ridicule, and humiliate are not always going to allow themselves to be my punching bag.  The only answer to healing anger that works every time is forgiving who or what has hurt you.  Accepting it as a fact that mustn’t be forgotten, but used as a tool of guidance to redirect our paths in the future.

In order for me to become enraged with somebody, I have to care enough about them first for any harsh words to plant themselves in my heart.  So the saying goes, you cannot hate somebody without loving them first.  So why is it that I grip so tightly to the weapons of pain instead letting go of foolish pride and fighting with what’s truly in my heart?


chance to shine

By Wilma 1962/Flickr

Tonight in our inside writing group, we had a large number of women new to the circle. It never surprises me that someone might feel too shy to share, too vulnerable to write her truth, too shamed to make eye contact. On the other hand, what never ceases to surprise and awe is the raw hunger to be heard that drives women to the circle, to pen their pain and speak it aloud. Through tears, through it all.

One such writer joined us tonight. Not only did she write powerful painful words; she made her way through reading them. At the end, she wrote ‘this is a terrible and a wonderful class: sharing was both a gift and a challenge.’

When I was young I had dreams; not fabulous dreams, just Future Me. I could see a writer, a singer, or maybe a mother. Someone with worth to the world. Someone who would be remembered as a benefit, or a person to look up to. Not revered. Just appreciated.

As I looked forward, I could see me accomplishing this for my kids and the ones that I love. To look into their eyes and see pride and love. But what I see now is contempt and sadness. I have no control over what has passed; yet I am totally responsible. I may have been lied about. No one cares to hear the truth.

So here I sit, unable to change what has passed. Always looking to the future. Hoping for the dream to unfold. Waiting for my turn to see the pride. And hoping for my chance to shine.

– LS