defining survival

At the most basic level the need to trust implies one basic fact: you’re vulnerable. The ability to satisfy your needs or obtain the outcomes you desire is not entirely under your control. – David DeSteno

The writers we work with define themselves, consistently, as survivors. According to the American Jail Association,

“Women entering jails are much more likely to have experienced poverty, intimate partner violence, sexual abuse, and/or other forms of victimization often linked to their offending behavior. (

In our writing this week, we wrote reflections on our experiences of past abuse. We don’t often ask such pointed questions or ask writers to speak directly about trauma in their pasts. The purpose of this work was to 1) to tell and retell our stories, offering multiple viewpoints from our own individual perspectives. Essentially, what we knew then versus what we know now. And 2) to chart our narratives from something done to us to what we do next, from victim to survivor, from here to now and how incarceration weaves into and/or reinforces an abusive narrative. How does one feel human even if treated inhumanely?  Continue reading

weaving women’s lives

large weaving with words

credit – progressonline

March is National Women’s History Month. This year’s theme is “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives.” And that is just what we do each week inside Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility. We weave the stories of women who find themselves in the same physical place. But their emotional, historical and future places are, literally, all over the map.

In the 90 minutes we sit together writing our stories, a world unravels through memory and is reassembled in a tapestry of words that envelope the table shared and reassembled. Likewise the ‘found poem’ created after every session. Each line has come from the pen and heart of one of the six or eight around the circle. Gathering these phrases into a single weaving both highlights the emotional urgency of each woman’s particular story; AND creates a composite communal story still more powerful than the already-moving individual ones.

I love the idea of women’s insight and wisdom,
our vast emergent experience
commanding compassionate presence
by listening with a full heart.

Take our herstory: women who stood up
fire in their eyes and passion in their voices
even walking through a dark doorway alone;
to laugh, let go and let silliness reign;
stirring the pot with one hand,
pounding the dough into compliant loaves
weaving their stories into ours and out again.
I am more than grateful
for a support system of strong women
daily working in a state of grace.

Before I didn’t care about these things;
it was a firm line we dared not cross,
a mockery of the possible strung with pain.

Ash is no match for the spark
of collaborative intimacy.
The love and loyalty we all deserve –
a seed growing, held, encouraged –
are our most outstanding features
working together hand over hand.

I know I am not weak or delicate;
I am a survivor, and one day my voice will be heard.