“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.”

As we enter the season of Advent, there is little to cheer on women incarcerated at Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility. Waiting and preparation are what their time is made of; and for many of them, the hope that originally wove through the fabric of time has simply worn thin.

Holidays can be a particularly tough time inside, as they remind us of family closeness and the warmth of special traditions. Yet in spite of all that seems to separate us from one another, our weekly opportunity to sit together, pen our thoughts and share them openly brings a measure of relief, of closeness … even of hope.

A sampling of the writing from this week follows, written by the artists whose work appears above:


Hope has no goddamned wings. Perhaps she had them once, a shining Christmas angel full-feathered. Now she staggers wet cobblestones dripping bloody stumps, stray feathers mutilated with her blood. She weeps and wails, sorry for herself or sorry for me. Hope has no goddamned wings. She doesn’t wear a sparkling samite sheath. She wears tattered rags, too worn and stained to be black, too mottled to be gray. Her muddy petticoat bares torn lace, my Freudian slip showing. Hope has no goddamned wings. Her feet bleed with every halting step, the mean and bitter earth cutting and snatching, tearing and rending tender, once-pristine feet. Hope has no goddamned wings. She was shot down long ago, if she ever flew at all on wings made of the dreams of fools. Hope has no goddamned wings. I’ve never seen her face shining with holy light, only wet with sweat and tears, folded like a Japanese fan with effort. Hope has no goddamned wings. She doesn’t sing a victory tune. She compels me on with a fucking dirge – mine – if I don’t work harder, faster, longer, better … mine, if I’m lucky. Hope has no goddamned wings.



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the caging of America

..that’s the title of Adam Gopnik’s Jan. 30th piece in The New Yorker.  Definitely worth reading.

A few poignant take-aways…

About prison“It isn’t the horror of the time at hand but the unimaginable sameness of the time ahead that makes prison unendurable for inmates.”

About incarcerated women – “..whatever they have done and whatever punishment has been meted out affects their family much more than it affects them.  Many provided the sole source of support for their family..by removing their income from the equation, their families suffer.  Rent or mortgages can’t be paid, older children lose their chance at an education, extra jobs must be taken on..”

About mass incarceration in America – “The moral failings of advanced liberal societies..tend to be slow-motion sins….We allow the atmosphere to be filled with greenhouse gases; we allow the hypertrophic growth of inequality; we let the prison population grow to the size of a megalopolis.  And the key is that there’s no particular moment when they happened, no single event to expose and decry.  It’s the slow-motion violence of mass incarceration that enables it to elude our moral immune system.  Prisons stop time.”

the high road

From time to time, one of the women in our writinginsidevt circles hands us a poem, letter or essay she has written outside of class time. The following poem is one such piece that landed in my lap after last week’s circle. Its powerful language and imagery need no introduction.



I see them lie there sleeping
lost in peaceful dreams;
they don’t know my temper’s steeping,
or hear my silent screams.

For now we share a room,
we even share our lives;
but do they know my gloom,
or the emptiness that thrives

calculating and cold,
hard as steel or stone?
My memories grow old
and in my head, I’m all alone.

No one can tame me now.
I’ll run roughshod over you,
tell you when, why and how;
you know that it’s true.

Too hard and tough to cry,
but a tear slides down my cheek
watching time pass by –
just another heartless freak.

Insane thoughts run through my head,
memories flood through me.
At times I wish that I was dead
swinging from an old oak tree.

Locked up in a cell,
a creature in a cage
living through this hell
trying to sublimate my rage.

I know that I must soldier on,
take with me this heavy load;
even though my hope is gone,
I must travel on the high road.


we are waiting for . . .

What we want

. . .  a letting go, a blind falling . . . permission to breathe again . . . as if our whole lives depended on . . .

These phrases from Linda Pastan’s poem, “Interlude,” opened last week’s writing circle inside Vermont’s prison for women. The ten women around the table lifted pens, wrote without stopping for 20 minutes on yellow tablets, then shared their words — some with trepidation, some boldly, some with tenderness. After their words had been held and heard, we spoke back into the circle phrases that resonated with us. These ‘read-back’ lines became the material for the following ‘found’ poem, whose title is one of the lines:


 moral fibers now frayed
force my shoulders to drop
teetering between my two selves
self-righteous self-loathing
twisted into shards
struggling to breathe
in the armor I construct for myself. Continue reading