vulnerability and courage

Scared child

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Tonight we tried something different in our writing inside group: we presented five statements from Brené Brown’s TED talk on the power of vulnerability; asked the women to write for just five minutes to each, one at a time; then shared the writing as if it were on singly-written piece. [The five statements are listed under “Prompt of the Week.”]

Usually we offer several prompts from which one is chosen, for a 20-minute writing time. So the exercise challenged the women a number of ways, not the least of which was delving directly into tender and often trying territory. Afterwards, comments about the experience included “I am amazed with how my fellow friends in prison express themselves;” tonight I appreciated “walking through vulnerability and celebrating the journey;” “my courage opened up today;” “what opened in me was to not judge others when meeting them; they have feelings just like me. What closed was a lot of the fear I have to show others.” And “What opened in me? my feelings about being vulnerable . . . with whom? where? why would I be? I enjoyed the exercise!”

Below is the quickly-written writing of one of our new participants:

Clever I may be in the struggle for happiness and change. The vulnerable me, the scared me, the self-judging me – accepting my work as good. Fear keeps me vulnerable, harsh upon myself. Be free to allow myself to try, regardless of the outcome. I am vulnerable.

I feel fear. I want to numb, I want to drink my fill until the numbness comes, the judgments gone, the sadness gone. So sad. So sad, the creativity is gone, the willingness to try is gone, the living of life is gone. I am left dormant. Empty.

I look for what’s wrong with you so I don’t have to look at me: your weakness, your failure, so I don’t look at me. I don’t have to show my weakness, my shame. I look at you. No courage, no shame.

I walk through to fear, to look at me, to accept who I am and love me just the way I am. Your opinion and hurtful words I ignore. I take courage like food to heal me. I will walk in my journey proud and happy just the way I am. It’s OK to be me . . . good or bad, I’m me. The cries of a child unaccepted is the loss of a beautiful being.

The struggle to find hope can be painful and long and vulnerable. If and when it comes to be, the surrender is a beautiful sweet thing.


Read-Around reflections

I couldn’t let our autumn Read-Around event go by without sharing a few reflections from the guests and writers/readers who participated on Sept. 20.

Imagine the courage it takes to read words (loudly and slowly) that detail your biggest failures and/or disappointments in life?  ..and to do so in a roomful of 50 strangers!

The ‘inside’ women writers presented their poetry and prose with great care and respect for themselves and each other.  On more than one occasion when tears began falling and voices choked, another inmate would calmly grab that woman’s anthology and continue reading her words in a strong, compassionate voice–how inspiring that was to witness.

At the close of the Read-Around, we asked the circle of 50 – what is stirring inside you as our words hang in the air?  Here’s what some of them told us:

These women’s words are greater, louder than slamming doors, than walls, than opaque glass. I am moved.

I am in an awwww moment. I feel a tenderness upon my heart. Life is opening up to me and there is these wonderful things going on, they’re arriving just in front of me and are warmly inviting me to a spiritual awaking.

I couldn’t really focus because I have court in 11 days and I don’t know what’s going to happen; but I found Faith in myself tonight. I know I can do and be better person and show people I have changed. I might get out on Oct 2–please pray for me. Thank you. Continue reading

‘willingness to be vulnerable’

‘Mystery in Blue’

Last Thursday evening, women who participate regularly in writinginsideVT shared their writing with interested inmates and invited providers from other prison programs. Following the reading, we received a large number of comments by guests attesting to the power of our model, the depth of expression elicited, and the willingness of the writers to be vulnerable in their sharing. One particularly striking comment: ‘I didn’t realize the depth you have to go to in order to absorb someone else’s emotion.’

And isn’t that what vulnerability is all about? One open heart opens another. These women behind prison walls opened themselves to a group of strangers to share the deepest part of themselves, as they have opened to women with whom they live in close and difficult quarters.  They have learned a great deal about human dignity – their own and one another’s. They have learned their own value. They have learned the power of telling their truth from the heart.