birthday cakeA critical mass of women inmates at the Chittenden Correctional Facility in Vermont are celebrating birthdays this month, thus our selected writing theme!

We opened our circle of 14 writers, checking in by recalling a memorable birthday present received.

Some of their responses – a shiny new bike, three chocolate mayonnaise cakes on a single birthday, and a Daisy BB gun given to one woman by her father – prompted toothy chuckles from us all.

When the question-at-hand reached one young woman in the circle, she paused for what seemed like an eternity of 15 seconds, looked up and said without any bitterness in her tone, “I can’t think of anything.”   Continue reading

soul knowings


The soul knows. It does.

As we wrestle with various life conundrums – relationships with others, work directions, past wounds that won’t heal…

..our thoughts meander through the labyrinth of our minds with no apparent way out.

The antidote that works for some, and for me?

Find a quiet space without distraction; formulate a clear and focused question about one’s inner struggle; pick up a pen; and write for 20 minutes without stopping.

The answers come, and they are laser-like in their precision.

It’s what the incarcerated women did this week. Many struggle with what to do about intimate relationships, past abuses, addictions, and next-steps in reentry…

Yet, when directed to offer written advice (as grown women) to the 13-year-old versions of themselves, the insights flow, the advice is powerful, and they sound like yogis in their words of wisdom.

The soul knows. It does. Read on.  Continue reading

my fate – in your hands

I’ve added a component to the weekly writing circle called “news to share.”

"Fate in Your Hands" Laura Siegel Collection

“Fate in Your Hands”
Laura Siegel Collection

It’s an opportunity for the jailed women who come together from six distinct units to report in on latest happenings in their lives.

The first time I introduced this idea, I didn’t expect much response. Ten minutes later, we had learned about the recent death of a beloved grandfather, a daughter’s first steps, a son’s 16th birthday, a painful anniversary, and a visit from a far-away friend.

The theme of this week’s news “download” was upcoming court decisions that will affect several women’s lives in potentially dramatic ways.

One inmate awaits an Interstate Compact from a neighboring state that will allow her to be released to family instead of serving time at Chittenden Correctional Facility for lack of local housing.

Another plans to change her plea and is wracked with anxiety over the pros and cons of making such an adjustment. It’s nearly impossible to know how this move could affect the years she has left to serve.

The third goes to the court house on Wednesday and could be released from there to home confinement, or the decision could be “NO,” and she would be returned to the facility that afternoon, an agonizing prospect in anyone’s mind. Continue reading

hole in my sidewalk

This week’s poem and writing prompt were well-known to the circle of 10 writers gathered.33_46_flatbushsinkhole04_z (2)

We opened our time with Portia Nelson’s Autobiography in Five Short Chapters. It’s the story of a woman who repeatedly falls into a “deep hole in the sidewalk” until she learns how to walk around it, and eventually travel in a new direction.

It’s a metaphor of sorts for refusing to be a victim, stopping the blame, and taking full responsibility for one’s own life.

In five short paragraphs, the author re-envisions her journey through life with “open eyes” now and re-writes her story.

Several of the incarcerated women writers had heard Nelson’s poem in the context of their addiction recoveries at various times.

And they LOVED the image of the woman swallowed up by a Brooklyn sidewalk, a symbolic representation of the entrapment they’ve felt in drug abuse, destructive intimate relationships, chronic mental illness, and lives of crime.

Several of the “inside” writers modeled their pieces on Portia Nelson’s poetic form, attempting to rewrite their own narratives. Read on…     Continue reading

present-moments in hell

Tree of Half LifeI presented a steep challenge to the incarcerated women writers this week.

Write about a moment, an activity, or an interaction with someone ‘inside’ – where you were mindful; in the present moment; all senses engaged; and forgot about your worries briefly.

We utilized Mary Oliver’s poem Mindful as a springboard.

As I explained the writing prompts to the 18 women gathered though, I began to be overcome by doubts. My own looping mental thoughts went something like this: these women are wracked with worries galore – some can barely sit still in their seats due to anxiety – how are they going to identify a moment where they ‘lost themselves’ in this joyless, hell-forsaken place?

Not to worry. The writers delivered as they always do.  Continue reading