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

program expanding!

This week, we started writing with the segregated transition unit, thus adding a second weekly writing circle to our offerings inside. It was especially heartwarming to enter that locked unit to collect the women shortly after 4 p.m. and to be greeted by a group of eager writers – half of them from the general population who had written with us before; and an equal number completely new to us.

Understandably, women new to our circles tend to feel a bit shy, initially opting not to share their words even though they unhesitatingly write along with the rest of us. Yet what always seems to happen is a near-immediate recognition of the depth of what we do. Respect for our practices and one another – neither of which is a general operating principle inside prison – emanates from the group within a remarkably short time. And is reflected in the comments we routinely share with one another following our 90 minutes together. As an example, in response to ‘what worked/what didn’t work during our time together,’ we received the following comments this week from the new women:

I’m new to this group and it was good to hear the women express themselves in different ways other than hurtful, hateful ways.

I loved the poetry and the centeredness of the room atmosphere.

I liked the way this group went, a lot of very powerful words which I related with on a personal level.

Thanks for coming every chance you can.