what is saving your life?

Soul Card by Deborah Koff-Chapin

Soul Card by Deborah Koff-Chapin

Our writing prompt this week was direct and to the point: what is saving your life right now?

Another way to say the same thing – what keeps you sane at this moment in time or holds your world together? (In a prison facility such lifelines can be quite basic, like a hot shower or unexpected compassion from a stranger.)

I happened upon this compelling question recently while reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s memoir An Altar in the World. When a person posed this query to her, she likened it to (metaphorically) yanking the china-laden cloth off the table of her life – and making immediate room for truth.

Coincidentally this week in writing about what saves us, a column I penned for the National Catholic Reporter about our newly released book Hear Me, See Me: Incarcerated Women Write and the writing inside VT program came out in print. (Thanks Mike Leach for the opportunity!)

As I reread the article, it occurred to me that this weekly writing circle in Vermont’s sole women’s prison “saves my life” in very real ways from time to time.

I can think of two specific ways to start…

Participation allows me to enter a space with other women where truth-telling is paramount; where soul connections are of a high priority; and there is little-to-no room for slick and varnished appearances (something that can wear me to the bone).   Continue reading

travels in my mind

by biswarupsarkar72

by biswarupsarkar72

In the WDEV radio studios with Mark Johnson this week, the well-known and pointed interviewer pressed me several times on the same point:

How does writing help a person heal?

Great question. And then the answer played out once again in the writing circle at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility last Thursday evening (which I’ll get to).

Our writing theme was journeys and travels — physical trips we have taken to beloved destinations, for example, or internal journeys we take in our minds, both desirous ones and those we’d prefer to shake for good.

Several of the women writers penned pieces about the circuitous mental loops they traverse while living in prison. You know, the disempowering messages and stories we retell ourselves in our quietest moments; the limiting beliefs we hold onto like ragged little security blankets; the questions we pose to self over and over without answer. Continue reading

the sweetest of reunions



‘Twas the sweetest of reunions…

Nine formerly imprisoned women now living in various communities throughout Vermont converged on Burlington’s Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center last Thursday evening, Oct. 3, for the book release of Hear Me, See Me: Incarcerated Women Write.

We had written with these women over the course of four years at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility – they, once outfitted in gray sweats and flip-flops, writing together in stark rooms ascreech with slamming metal doors, and many many interruptions.

Now this Thursday night, each of them strode down the Film House aisle in heels, dresses, sequins, form-fitting skinny jeans, with hair freshly styled and makeup applied. Their faces communicated a mixture of eagerness and nerves, yet they overflowed with joyful presence to see us and each other.

Each woman writer – Angie, Belinda, Raven, Margarita, Tess, Valerie, Michele, Joellen, and Stacy – took a seat up front, held the microphone in turn, and read slowly and deliberately her own words from the pages of this just-released book of incarcerated women’s writings.  Continue reading

countdown time

It’s countdown time – just two days to go before our book reading & release event on Thursday evening, Oct. 3rd in Burlington, Vt.

Artwork by Shawna H. from "Hear Me, See Me"

Artwork by Shawna H. from “Hear Me, See Me”

Eight formerly incarcerated women (coming from all corners of the state) will join us on stage to read their poetry and prose from Hear Me, See Me: Incarcerated Women Write.

We’ll also have a few incarcerated women from the work-release unit at Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in attendance.

Sarah has tabulated the RSVPs, and it looks like we’ll have an audience of more than 225, including 50 family members connected to the women writers!  These new authors will be on hand after the reading portion of the evening to autograph books for guests.

This week, bestselling author Chris Bohjalian, who writes a regular Sunday column entitled Idyll Banter for the Burlington Free Press, penned a lovely validating essay about Hear Me, See Me. We are eternally grateful for his help in spreading the word.

Tomorrow Sarah debuts live on Vermont Public Radio’s noontime program Vermont Edition to talk about the book and read a few selections.  Break a leg, dear one!

We’ll post pictures after the reading event; you can still order your copy here. Huge thanks for your ongoing support!

Oh, and post an Amazon review if you’ve already purchased the book; we have two so far and welcome more.

book’s in hand

stack of booksCelebration time!

The first copies of Hear Me, See Me: Incarcerated Women Write greeted me at the door when I arrived home from vacation.

What a gift to hold the words and voices of 60 of Vermont’s women prisoners and ex-offenders in my actual hands!

The front cover is more striking than the JPGs from publisher Orbis Books indicated, and the 12 inside color images of the women’s artwork provide soft and beautiful accents to the writings.

Order your copy now from Orbis Books or Amazon!  And if you’re in Burlington, Vermont on Thursday, Oct. 3rd, join us at 5:30 p.m. at Main Street Landing for the celebratory launch.

Here’s a snippet from the book’s introduction to whet your appetite:  Continue reading