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

to the women out there

cover image of woman with wings

credit – CD cover

During our ‘outside’ writing group this past week, I found myself penning a note to all those women who have written with writing inside VT over the past five years. Perhaps that’s because it’s an anniversary of sorts, as the outside program builds upon the inside one. Perhaps because the evening’s opening poem brought the image of women with wings to mind. Perhaps because in this season, as we begin to turn once again to budding renewal, I think of each woman whose words penned in our circles brought new possibilities to light.

I want to dedicate this post to the more than 200 women who have sat in the writing circle with us since January 2010 – whether once or weekly, whether inside or out today. Your words, your presence, your courage have made a difference to one another, and to each of us. May you continue to speak your truths and seek their expression as you return to/create your ways into the future.

who wrote with me inside

Feel your wings
rising on the wind
spread strong to support
your inmost intentions

Feel your wings
flutter and flap, testing
the air you enter, the earth
to which you return

Feel your wings
fueled by time
and opportunity
outstretched in offering

Feel your wings
whisper the moon’s waxings
and wanings in hushed shadow
and full-circle brilliance

Feel your wings
fold neatly in prayer
and supplication to the power
of your beliefs

Feel your wings
spill words like petals
shaken from the bloom
soft and redolent

Feel your wings
their echoed flight
resonant still
in the hollows of our hearts

Feel your wings
parse their rhythm
to send you
well on your way

Feel your wings
the staccato and flow
of upbeat and down
following your harmonies home


an empty truth

All great truths begin as blasphemies.  – G.B. Shaw                            

The pursuit of truth will set you free; even if you never catch up with it. – Clarence Darrow

As we close our unit on truth this month, I leave you with a reflection from one of our women below. In one of the stories we discussed, the narrator speaks of an empty truth. On the surface, the phrase seems like a contradiction, as though such a truth would be meaningless. But our group appreciated the phrase, reflected that such a truth is not meaningless but simple. There is often a plainness or clarity to the truths that endure.

But to achieve these truths and to view them as self-evident is a complex process. It requires engagement, risk, faith, all qualities and experience the women describe as vital to their growth within the walls of the prison. It is a process that must be lived for each truth to be embodied. Each of us almost have to act out the truths in our words and actions to understand them. Here, one of the writers reflects on this process and its role in expression.

Truth Telling

That is being true to yourself, searching, growing, and expressing yourself for you and no one else. If your following the crowd, you get lost and it can lead to soul-sickness. Walking up in a life you never envisioned. Conditions you have to deal with because your choices were not yours.

To be able to do that one must not be afraid. One must be their own spirit detective to find who they are to find meaning, satisfaction, and joy. As Janis Joplin sings “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” is an anthem of being true to one’s self. Continue reading

Seeking Truth

Desert truth

There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting. -Buddha

All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them. -Galileo Galilei

Last week, we started discussion of truth with a handful of women at CRCF. It presented clean slate, a process, and, perhaps, a contract with the new year. One of our agreements is to offer writing space to any woman seeking honest self-expression. As we study the nature of truth, we commit to seeking the truth of ourselves on paper, even if those truths appear painful or threaten to change us.

One woman characterized truth as a kind friend. Another called it a primordial thread. Another called it love. Another doubted it even existed. This is a joke, right? She said. It became clear that our relationship to truth can be as complex as our relationship to love, freedom, wonder, any necessary but abstract notion, really. Truth is a concept that demands action but offers no guides, no answer, no clear road map. This leaves the potential for pitfalls, mishaps, and loss. As we started to write, we were all a little afraid. This is often the case.  Continue reading

i am waiting for me

Marilyn Kalish

One of the most anticipated moments in each inside writing circle comes near the end, just before the final chime signals the close. It is the moment when one of the 14-plus women around the circle hopes to be the one to read the week’s ‘found’ poem – a weaving of words written, spoken and recorded the previous week by the women in the circle. These words find their way into a poem that is in the truest sense a community creation.

The resulting piece is wholly new and different from any one of the previous week’s writings, at the same time as it contains the seed and memory of each woman’s individual writing. It is a gift to us all, both anticipated and cherished around the circle. In fact, last night one of our long-time writers emphatically declared that these poems are so powerful in their own right, they deserve to become an independent publication. Duly noted!

Some days I am emotionless
my heart waiting for me
to get rid of being scared
to be carefree;

waiting for the months to pass
to embrace life in a new context
bring truth from my past forward.
It’s OK through my actions to change,

for love’s gravity to pull me close to center
plant her foot firmly in my life.
My past may creep up on me –
always felt like I was in a cocoon,
a prisoner to my addiction –

my truth is, it’s time to let loose. Continue reading