I am touched …

I missed a session with the ‘inside’ women last week due to the death of my beloved 103-year-old grandfather, Emmett McNamara.

Marybeth & Granddad @ age 101

Marybeth & Granddad @ age 101

He was one of the ‘lights of my life,’ an engaged and curious man (’til the very end) with whom I could do no wrong.  Honestly, my grandfather believed the sun and the moon rose over my head. He was a true example of unconditional love, something lacking in most familial relationships today … and certainly missing in the lives of the incarcerated women I write with.

Anyway, I returned to Vermont after the funeral services and was given a piece of butcher block paper in which the incarcerated women had scrawled their “wishes” for me in the wake of my loss.

“Marybeth, I wish for you …

We wish you 2… positive direction … support … perseverance … love … courage … loving memories … caring … keep going … stay strong and use all your skills and strengths … the strength to know you have the strength … that you’ll always remember.”

And the closing line: “We are with you.  Don’t ever forget–we love you.”

I have reflected before on the mutual blessing that flows within our writinginsideVT community, but tonight, I am deeply touched and comforted, and left without words.

doing or being

Together We Can Reach the Sky/Janoid

“In the end, the most important thing is not to do things for people who are poor and in distress, but to enter into relationship with them, to be with them and help them find confidence in themselves and discover their own gifts.”    — Jean Vanier

I read this quote today and thought, “this is the deepest work of writinginsideVT for me.”  Writing is the vehicle we utilize with incarcerated women to develop personal voice and create community together.
But it is unconditional presence, openness, receptivity, vulnerability, and a willingness to be ‘changed’ by the women-writers that creates a deep and abiding mutual trust.  First-time participants comment on the palpable “good vibes in the room” and the “non-judgemental atmosphere.”
That’s why I resonate with Jean Vanier’s words above.  He founded L’Arche four decades ago, international communities of people living side-by-side with developmentally disabled persons.  He created this model believing  that “those we lock away and think worthless have the power to teach and even to heal us.”  We are all broken in seen and unseen ways, and our willingness to enter into parallel relationship, even if for a time, facilitates a healing bridge for all.

releasing Santa-God

One of the writinginsideVT agreements we writers ascribe to weekly is…”this is a sacred circle, and we are all equal within it.”  As a result, we facilitators write vulnerably about our lives, loves and struggles too.   Each participant’s willingness to be real, honest and imperfect creates a holy safety in which our questions and insights can blossom.

Here’s a “fast-write” I penned in the circle last week about the changing nature of my God:  


with shimmering beard

perched at pearly gates

before heaven’s entrance,

I wholeheartedly release

your false guise.

Conditional, patriarchal,

unbending in your demand

for me to be a “good girl.”

What a miniscule vision

to be saddled with.

As if being “nice” and

“perfect” were Godly aims…

I now know not. Continue reading

PRESENCE is everything

Through writing, we help incarcerated women unearth their woundedness, as well as envision new life. However, sometimes it’s apparent to me that our work goes far beyond the actual writing.

I recently reflected on this during my own “fast-write”…

Slowing down, breathing freely, looking deeply into another’s eyes, facing them straight on, exuding joy, letting them know they have full access to your being — this is the deepest, most unnamed work of writinginsideVT.

It’s about PRESENCE, present-momentness, full access to another’s mind, heart & soul. This is the gift we bring each time we go “in.”  These women barely, if ever, have interacted with people in this place of consciousness.

You can immediately see their recognition of access to unconditional presence. We are not asking or requiring anything of them, not judging or manipulating them.  We stand open, present and uncluttered before them, anticipating what they have to give to us.

It disarms them; body language changes; smiles form; walls come down. Suddenly, there is access to innocent hearts, laughter, community and trust.

It’s as if an encounter with open, present-moment PRESENCE energetically rearranges everything! This is the deep work of healing and  transformation that we do. I believe it is the very thing that transmuted those in the presence of great spiritual leaders such as Jesus, Gandhi, Buddha, etc. 

It was full-on unconditional love (through uncluttered presence) that changed people at cellular levels.  If we achieve nothing else during a 90-minute session with these incarcerated women, it is to exist from this conscious place…both for them and for ourselves.

watching me from doughnut heaven

I am massively jazzed when a new woman joins the writing circle and folds into our community process seamlessly.  It’s a testament to the woman’s personal readiness to reflect more deeply upon her life.  It’s also testament to the power of the Women Writing for (a) Change model we use, and its ability to facilitate safe, trustworthy space (quickly) for all participants.

Inside-writer SV joined us for the first time this week and shared this whimsical piece about her Aunt Shirley.  For many incarcerated women (all of us, for that matter!), it’s the memory of someone who loved us unconditionally that holds together our orbits during difficult times.  Read on…


My Aunt Shirley loved to eat doughnuts and chocolate and pizza from the microwave.

She loved to feed me my favorite foods – and that was the way she loved me.

She loved me through macaroni and cheese.

She loved me through Alfredo and broccoli.

She loved me until the day she passed; and yet, still, I feel her love.

I would not be who I am today if my Aunt Shirley wasn’t there everyday to love me the best way she knew how. In fact, I don’t think I’d even be here if I had to go through life without her.

She is in doughnut heaven now.

She is not always by my side – but, oh, she really is.

Her love, her faith in me, that was unwavering.

She made me believe I was loveable.

She made me believe that I was so special to her – and I was.

She watches over me every minute of every day, I am sure of it.

As sure as she has a doughnut in her hand!