cassandra1In modern usage, ‘a Cassandra’ is someone whose accurate prophecies are not believed by those around them, thanks to the curse the god Apollo put on her gift of prophecy as revenge for her broken promise to him; or perhaps because she went mad by virtue of her incarceration by her father the king. Thus no one believed her foretelling of the attack on Troy – and look how that ended!

We all have times in our lives when we feel that our shouted warnings fall on deaf ears. We have experienced the ‘deja vu’ moments that cause us to cringe with recognition of our own precognition. And we often feel trapped, whether by an institution or history or our own interpretations.

In last week’s writing group inside Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility, the common thread that pulls us all through such times is a shared belief in the power of voice. This proved but a  modest foretelling of the power of millions of voices raised two days later, both across this country and beyond, in support of those whose voices continue to be threatened by institutions of power. Inside prison and out in capitol cities of the world, throngs demonstrated with we showed through our words: belief in the power of one voice to save others. Magnified. Cassandra’s no longer, our voices shall be believed for the truths they carry. Continue reading

vulnerability is an offering

When their light has picked you out/ and their questions are asked, say to them:/ “I am not ashamed.” A sure horizon/ will come around you. The heron will begin/ his evening flight from the hilltop. – from Do not be ashamed – Wendell Berry

The second a phrase like “Do not be ashamed” comes across the table, the whole circle is changed. The air is electric. We know we’re in for something. It’s a challenge straight from the teeth of a poet: an imperative, an edge, a subversion. In quiet that follows, we wrote, we spoke, and consistently expressed the same understanding: our greatest act of subversion and greatest gift to one another is to become vulnerable.

We were afraid, sure. That’s a given. The circle is quiet and people spoke quietly, especially at first. The pauses between words were long. Some women opted not to share their work. Some women read quickly or slowly or without expression or with so much, it was almost a performance. In each voice was an imbedded fear. But that means within each written piece, there was bravery. 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

i’d rather you not know . . .

Eve covers herself and lowers her head in sham...

Eve covers herself and lowers her head in shame in Rodin’s sculpture “Eve after the Fall”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last night we wrote with 14 women, each of whom had breathtakingly raw and honest things to say about who they were, have become. And, in keeping with the prompt, shared what they wish someone might see about them; as well as what they would prefer remain hidden. What follows is TD’s quickly-penned response to the full prompt: “what would you not want someone you respected but didn’t know well to perceive about you?”

There are things I’d rather you not know. It’s how it happened that’s shameful; and having these feelings crop up at just the thought of you finding out makes me want to run and hide. While you jump and shout about, stamping, your hand flailing, and I envision your voice getting louder as I start to shut down and your lips are no longer moving.

I feel selfish, too knowing you are my father and you were the one who watched me grow; and how would you of known, it was hidden so well.

Standing before you, I feel so awful and my own pain is just too much to try to even begin to feel; but watching your whole world crumble as the tears flow just makes this even more confusing.

I don’t want you to remember this, but we have really no choice. The things I didn’t want you to know came out. My only thoughts are: can you still love me the same; and are you still going to be here to support me? I’m scared to death to be alone a minute longer to all the hurt and shamefulness that’s been going on inside of me. There is a void within me that has shattered my perception of who I am and what it is I should be.

Sometimes I wonder if it was meant to happen, these things I keep within me. I’ve realized over time how to push the pain and fear deeper down, just for the sake of my own well-being. On the outside, I’m looking like the woman who’s reached her beauty; but inside is the killer. I’m all these mixed emotions, bottled up tightly, trying to figure out if I let out the true thing I feel within me, will you love me, accept me and fill me with your pride? Somewhere along the way, I got lost in others’ plans; but today, with your help, I can better begin to plan how to feel like a woman of self worth and confidence.

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