what is love



Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage. Lao Tzu

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Love the moment and the energy of that moment will spread beyond all boundaries. Corita Kent

This week, we began a month celebrating love. We live in what has been called, at best, “interesting times.” We decided, as a counter measure and as support, to focus our month on love – celebrating it, discussing it, and exploring it through art and writing. We began this month with the writings of Pablo Neruda whose line in his Sonnet XVII “I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,” resonated with all of us. It may appear that a prison is a place where love does not go but it is even more important here than elsewhere. How can love be fostered behind prison walls? How can it reach in and reach out?

In the poems below, you will read the beginnings of these explorations by a group of writers delineating for themselves and on the page what it means to love and be loved.


Love should be unconditional and
straightforward. Love should be
honest and sincere. Love should be
a form of respect toward one
another. I feel love should be
wholesome and fulfilling. I don’t believe
objects should take the place of love.
When you are loved, you feel wanted
and need like your emotional well-being
is being met. When you have struggled
with getting the love that you have longed for
all your life, there is a void that comes
from within, an emptiness that is succumbed
by wants and desires that may be unhealthy
or have negative repercussions or consequences.
You become fueled by the desire to fill a thirst
or hunger that wants what the heart wants
because for a huge part of your life, you have felt
subdued by suppressive emotions, a huge part
of you has always felt like a black hole
of nothingness, a blob of unloving complicated
feelings of a sadness so deep, no one might ever
understand because your human self is so complex
and full of despair what do you do with this do
you try to bury it like it never happened – no embrace it
and make your voice heard because
we all deserve love.


*** Continue reading

what we know of love

abstract-love-wallpaperWanting to be loved, “I love you,” was what I said… from ‘Full Circle’ by Alden Nowlan

You never see it coming but always see it leaving./It waits by the door, bags packed,/full of stones from your life. from ‘What Love Cannot Do’ by January Gill O’Neil

Valentine’s Day is a mixed bag inside prison. On the one hand, everyone wants to remember – and be remembered by – loved ones on the outside. Yet, for those who do not receive any kind of remembrance, the day can feel hollow, lonely, far weightier than its Hallmark intentions.

Come to think of it, this is not unlike grade-school scenarios of my youth – the popular kids raking in the candy-coated heart-filled valentines while the rest of us walked around empty-handed and -hearted. Or simply dis-heartened.

So it’s a challenge to navigate. Last week we aimed for a middle approach by offering writing prompts that could be interpreted a variety of ways; then turned to making actual physical valentines with traditional red, pink and purple paper, complete with glittery tape, white markers and some red ‘I Love You’s’ in cut-outs. The dozen women around the table jumped whole-heartedly into both activities, producing memories, yearning, fiction and highly original valentines for their children and loved ones. Continue reading

reach for more

'Winter Beauty' hybrid honeysuckle

‘Winter Beauty’ hybrid honeysuckle

As is my custom, each week I create a ‘found poem’ from lines written the previous week by women participating in the writing inside circle. This is a particularly interesting challenge for those weeks when I am not present as facilitator. Reading these lines ‘cold’ and out of context simply prompts me to find the thread that will tie them together. Perhaps the result is a narrative, or perhaps, a mood-setting vignette of condensed and coalesced memory. Either way, I am as eager as the dozen or so expectant faces turned toward the reader of those combined lines to gauge the pulse of the resulting piece. Did I capture something? Does it speak to them? Does it resonate with their original intention(s) or distort their individual voice so much they cannot even recognize their own words?

It is important to understand that, for these women, this is much more than an exercise. It is an opportunity for them to shine; for their words to mingle into a mixed message of hope, longing, despair; for them to see themselves, through their words, as part of something bigger than their own thoughts and feelings, to become part of a communal tapestry of experience. A slice of life, if you will.

So when a long-time writer with the group pronounced the following ‘found poem’ “just beautiful” as she asked to read it last Thursday, I listened with extra attention to sense how it would hit her sister writers, now prepped to receive with her assessment. What I heard was the gentle hum of mmm’s around the table as they recognized both their part and the whole they had become part of creating, a brand-new expression of love, loss and longing that started with individual’s writing on Valentine’s Day one week prior.

Hear the clock –  tick, tock –
it’s time I must go
retrace the steps of everywhere I’ve been:
the drugs, the crazy nights, the binges;
back to the 15-year-old version of myself
I was taught and shown in a strange way.
If I were able to erase all the scars,
I’d be able to open my eyes and see
we outspent the repercussions. Continue reading

end of you and me

Courtesy of buddah1888/Flickr

Courtesy of buddah1888/Flickr

Valentine’s Day ranks at the top of the list of rocky days for incarcerated women.

It’s a stark reminder of separation from loved ones, especially partners or spouses and children.

And for some women, this ‘holiday’ jiggles remembrances of the men with whom they served as accomplices in the commission of their crimes.

For JL, imprisonment has facilitated a reckoning of sorts, helping her decouple from what she now admits was a reckless liaison.

Written and read aloud tonight in the company of 13 other ‘inside’ women, she shared “A Haunted Goodbye” in an emotional yet determined voice:

I dreamt of you last night
my heart, my love, my other half
You, the man I would grow old with

I am haunted by you in the night
the silence reminds me you are not there
Did you give up on me?

My heart wants so badly to say I walked away
that this time I had the strength to
stand on two feet, my own, alone

And the truth is I don’t know the answer
but my heart is broken just the same
It is Valentine’s Day, would you still be mine  Continue reading