synthesis – part 2

As mentioned in the previous post, we created visual mosaics after our writing last session. The invitation was to consider placing the visual within a large circle to indicate the sense of the moment, as a mandala does.

Our materials were simple: torn pieces of bright-colored magazine pictures of landscapes, animals, sunsets, black-and-white trees — plus shreds of bright tissue papers. It is always surprising to see the range of products from similar materials, as well as the variation in feeling that can be created from such simple materials.

The few images below capture some of the intensity and mood variations around the table that night. Please do enjoy them.

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

Laughter is Unity

Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.– Kurt Vonnegut

Last week our theme was laughter and the unified response surprised me. It is fair that asking anyone to write a funny story is putting her on the spot. We didn’t have a great deal of them and we’ve all told a hundred funny stories in group so our writing circle is not absent of laughter with or without a prompt.

The women mostly focused on the nature of laughter – what it means to laugh inside, the quality of laughter, the release and freedom of laughter, and its power to unify. Many described the shelter of laughter particularly in relationship with one another. One woman said, “I have not laughed as I have amongst these women.” Another said, “Laughter has always been my escape.”

In writing, we support sadness. We support weeping. We support the great unheard wails that would rattle the bars if they were let loose. And finally, we support laughter. One of the women said, “As a recovering addict, a lot of my life has been serious.” What recovery is possible in the shared space we make through laughter? How can we attend to the whole human in one another by the laughing together that is so needed?

Below, you’ll find the found poem created with this in mind:


How I get by unfriendly shores:
I laugh until I cry, laugh in happiness,
laughter that hurts, that becomes silent
because you cannot take one more breath.

My humor is sarcastic, that laugh
from the bottom of your stomach
the one you cannot explain, can’t control.
At times I even wonder how I do it.

I would like to see it flooding
between the divide, a surge of survival
behavior arising, awkward and fresh,
a simple action between two human lives.

I can relax. I can laugh at myself,
peel into hyena laughs, burn out of my life.
Laughter is a universal language.
Laughter is contagious.

Laughter is unity.
Laughter is the courage within.
Laugh until I cry, cry until I laugh,
the best things happen when you’re not trying,

confident that there is still good in this world.
This is the truth we’re talking about:
deep, loud laughter. The story itself smiles,
Knock, knock.


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