hollow memories

When we ask the women inside Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in Burlington, VT what kinds of topics they want to write about, ‘holidays’ always top the list. Yet holidays are also major triggers for many. Easter brought out the story of a young girl raped by a trusted uncle charged with taking her to church. Christmas recalls the death of dearly beloved sister.

Halloween is no different. One woman writes in great detail about her last Halloween with her mother, when the writer was 5. Another writes with obvious pain how her mother over-did Halloween and as a result, never acknowledged her October birthday. Another loves Halloween because her birthday was fully integrated into it, making both completely magical. SS offers a still different story:

She thinks back, tries to remember what it was like. There’s always the Before and After. She was too young to know then. Before he left, Halloween was her favorite holiday. He made it special. They would spend a week decorating the front yard and porch. She shoves leaves in the pumpkin trash bags. He hangs ghost-shaped lights in the bushes. Fills the porch with fake cobwebs and spiders. He never tires, getting every detail right. He makes it special for them. He works all night to create their costumes. Every jewel and sparkle in her sister’s crown is perfect.

He paints her face green. Black hat, black gown. Her sister wears all pink: together, good and bad. She laughs. Who would’ve known back then there would be no good. Just bad. Everything else make believe, like Halloween memories. Continue reading

ocean of mercy

courtesy lunarland.com

Once again, I am moved to post a poem created from the lines of all the women writing within the Delta group two weeks back. Each individual’s writing is powerful, personal, speaking to a particular set of circumstances and present perspective. When lines are put together from ALL the women’s writing, both the particulars and the collective power of the words grow exponentially.

Not only does each woman feel how her words have moved others; she, in turn, is moved by the juxtaposition of others’ words with hers. The community grows and deepens, as was shown by Marybeth’s moving writing after this past week’s tragic loss of one of ‘our’ women. It is the existence of this deepening community that holds many of these women up and together; and keeps us coming back week after week to hold the container for it.

It is me, your daughter. I am here
come to terms with shadows that trail my heels,
these wayward soldiers
unbending in their demands
my eternal shame chamber that shuts the door.

Lessons of introspection
torn from the celestial womb
deeply embedded in all things beating
cleanse my soul, empower me
to rise from the bondage of my addiction,
making geometry of the air,
unlocking my soul to a journey of more.

In gratitude for what’s in store
I whole-heartedly release
the smooth marble of all that existed.
Your grace has given me mercy.
I have become divine.

I exist
not stranded out at sea,
but linked into the collective.
The world opens its arms again
shimmering, flowing
an ocean of mercy
of new life, new encounters
by your star-swept hand.