book news!

Our super-terrific editor at Orbis Books, Mike Leach, forwarded us the (nearly final) cover of Hear Me, See Me: Incarcerated Women Write this week.


Hear Me See Me cover 2

“Sure to become a classic,” says Sister Helen Prejean, author, Dead Man Walking, at the top of the jacket.

And as we speak, co-creator Sarah Bartlett is knee-deep in the 200-plus page proofs of the book.  I’m next to review–yikes!

For those of you new to this writinginsideVT project, Hear Me, See Me is a collection of powerful, unvarnished prose and poetry by women imprisoned in Vermont, survivors of every kind of trauma, abuse, and addiction, whose individual and collective works explore and transcend the physical and spiritual trials of their lives.

It’s due out in September, and (drumroll, please), it’s now available on Amazon for pre-order, so please feel free to reserve your copy.

We also secured some nifty endorsements this week too.   Continue reading

mindfully drumming

My latest project at the Chittenden Correctional Facility is designing a drumming & mindfulness pilot program for the incarcerated women.

Drum line by taddzilla/Flickr

Drum line by taddzilla/Flickr

Ask me if I knew A THING about the difference between a snare or tenor drum when we began in January, or even how to hold a pair of hickory drumsticks?  The answer then was a resounding, NO!”

Yet under the skilled mentorship of Berklee College of Music-trained drummer Sue Schmidt, of Burlington, we are halfway through an 8-week program, learning how to play our individual parts while simultaneously becoming a unified drumline. (Sounds like an important metaphor for life, huh?!)

The 16 women participants were identified by correctional officers for this innovative Vermont Works for Women program.

The program, called “Flying Sticks: Drumming and Stress Reduction,” aims to provide a healthy avenue for women (who struggle with aggressive behavior) to burn off stress and anxiety through drumming, as well as to engage in healthy communal activity with other inmates. Continue reading

young prisoners speak – part 2

By inmate_82

By inmate_82

… so back to my recent hour-long conversation with nine female prisoners under age 22.

After traversing the pleasantries of ‘where are you from’ and ‘what do you want to be when you grow up,’ we dove into subjects such as work-related internships and apprenticeships that they wish were available to them in prison.

This was the number one request from this circle of young women.

We want to leave here having learned something, so we can find good-paying jobs when we get out, they insisted.

Earning certifications in plumbing and drywall were suggested.

Another expressed interest in day-furlough community service projects as a way to meet other people doing positive things.

(Remember in a previous post, these prisoners unanimously agreed that their unhealthy family/friend networks contributed to their getting back into trouble.)

Continue reading

young prisoners speak

By inmate_82

By inmate_82

I found myself conversing with nine young women prisoners this week–all under age 22.  My aim was to inquire about their own sense of their needs related to education, work and job when they get out.

Where are you from? I asked glancing around the circle.

Rutland, St. Johnsbury, Newport, Middlebury, Bennington, Barre, Manchester, N.H., they responded.

What kinds of jobs are you interested in? I continued.

Firefighter, cook, auto-mechanic, solider, therapist, business manager, childcare worker, owner of a tattoo and piercing studio, an advocate for women’s rights …

Continue reading

3 milestones

CHSVT graduation by Marybeth Redmond

This week, we witnessed one of our long-term ‘inside’ writers graduate from the Community High School of Vermont!  Seated atop the sanctuary of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Burlington, TD “turned the tassel” of her mortarboard and officially earned her GED after many years of diligent work.  Family and friends overflowed with words of pride and congratulations.  CHSVT staff planned the graduation in an illustrious location beyond the confines of Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility, so as to create an indelible memory for TD about this momentous achievement.

Next, we hosted our semi-annual “Read-Around” event at the Chittenden facility this past Thursday evening.  Within a sacred circle of 50 seated inside the prison visiting room, 17 women-writers read their poetry and prose to the amazement of listeners.  Our generous writinginsideVT benefactors attended for the first-time ever!  It was a stunning evening…raw, real, emotional, insightful…each guest leaving deeply touched.  The women-writers were buoyed to have their words “find good ears” among so many supportive folks.

Finally this week, Commissioner of Corrections Andy Pallito announced the appointment of Bob Arnell as superintendent of the Chittenden facility.  Might I say that Sarah and I are pinching ourselves?!  Superintendent Arnell took over as interim leader of a chaotic and troublesome facility last April.  In spite of early criticisms of many program providers, he saw us as collaborators and forged strong relationships with us, allowing us to be his ‘eyes and ears’ within the facility.  Needless to say, there is still much work to be accomplished as Superintendent Arnell would readily admit.  Yet the women’s prison facility seems headed in a more holistic, gender-responsive, trauma-informed direction–way to go!