layers of loss

For a woman in prison, the layers of loss over a lifetime are thick and plentiful.

layers of loss

Layers of Nature
by imageseekertoo

The stories I hear in the writing circle convince me that nearly all incarcerated women have experienced not just one, but several traumatic losses as children or teens.

These usually include: loss of a beloved family member who held their world together, or the loss of physical safety, or the loss of innocence.

Almost universally, this intensive loss remains unresolved in heart and mind, and rears its ugly head at some later date.

Drug use occurs as a way to mask the erupting feelings.  And criminal activity begins as a way to fund the drug habit, or to survive, or to keep a dysfunctional male relationship intact.

This week, we used former U.S. poet-laureate Stanley Kunitz’s The Layers as our muse.  Continue reading

keeping hope in jail

A woman in jail must learn to cultivate hope for herself, or she will become despondent and bitter.

Writing is a healthy, pro-social exercise that can cultivate hopeful visions of life-to-come.

keeping hope in jail

By Toni Holopainen

Some of our long-term women writers at Chittenden Correctional Facility in Vermont have been trickling out of the facility, making those left behind miss their circle members.

I decided it was time to pull out Lisel Mueller’s poem Hope to help us rekindle that eternal well-spring within ourselves.

Incarcerated writers were encouraged to imitate Mueller’s style by visually describing what hope looks and feels and sounds like–to them.

The first piece, written by a younger 20-something, is rich in insight about the unbreakable bond she carries with her child. The second is whimsical and fun–please enjoy!

HOPE

“It is the mouth that inflates the lungs
of the child that has just been born.”
Hope is love. Unconditional and pure
as snow falling fresh from bitter skies.
Stinging and painful with all its beauty.  Continue reading

keeping mothers and children together

Mother & Child by Bev Draper  (Sorrento, Italy)

Mother & Child by Bev Draper
(Sorrento, Italy)

The latest endorsement for our soon-to-be-published book Hear Me, See Me: Incarcerated Women Write arrived this week.

It comes from Elizabeth Gaynes, J.D., executive director, of The Osborne Association in New York City. One of Osborne’s missions is to advocate for and develop alternatives to incarceration that respect the dignity of people and their capacity to change.

In particular, Osborne works to support and develop programs that keep mothers and their children together while a woman is serving her sentence.

..like JusticeHouse, a 45-bed program in Brooklyn announced this week that will allow carefully screened women with felonies to live with and continue to care for their children with supervision.

The participants will be visited several times a week by case managers, receive counseling about jobs, schools, and parenting. Some will be required to have treatment for drug addiction and mental illness.

The aim is to undergird and hopefully strengthen the mother-child relationship during this precarious time.  Continue reading

letters to self

Write me a letter by jinterwas

Write me a letter by jinterwas

I am jazzed when an incarcerated woman gets really honest with herself in the circle.

..when she writes openly about the seamier side of life as an addict or hustler before imprisonment and names the temptations that still haunt her thoughts.

In my own experience, it’s difficult to disempower negative behavior and mindset in oneself until you begin naming the ‘demons’ clearly, along with your underlying motivations (what you’ve been getting out of it all).

Add to that process, the power of a circle of listening women witnessing to your forthright revelations with compassion and non-judgement, and you have a space for healing to begin or continue.

This week KG got real honest, writing a letter to that part of herself that sometimes feels drawn to return to chaotic, irresponsible living.

Next, she called upon the wise woman part of herself that she has been cultivating over the months with excellent help from numerous program providers in the prison facility. And she responded to the first letter with a second, full of what she is learning and understanding.  Read on…

*    *    *

(Letter to Self)

Hey, how are you? I bet you can’t wait until you get out, so you can roll up a phat blunt with the homies. I see you got a couple of addresses and numbers from a few people here. I know that’s for when you max, you can come back and find a good place to hustle. Don’t worry, I got ya back with that. Make sure you get rid of all those lame-ass people numbers and get with the ones who know where to get the bupes. 

And that cover letter you’re working on, forget about it. Nobody even uses those things any more. You don’t need a work readiness certificate.  What’s it genna get you, top pay? And all those days you go out on work crew, why don’t you stay at home and put your feet up and relax?

Just looking out for you. Love you.  – KG   Continue reading

hearts in Boston

By Saildog Photography

By Saildog Photography

Our hearts are with the people of Boston today in the aftermath of the marathon tragedy.

In dire times like these, it is easy to succumb to hopelessness about our world, the human condition, maybe our own lives.

Instead we remain a people of hope, offering light touches of blessing and compassion where we can — today, tomorrow and the next.

This ‘found poem,’ composed of the woven words of the incarcerated women writers during a past circle together, reminds me of the daily exercise we are called to …

… one of acknowledging the suffering around us (not living in denial), yet starting over in heart and mind, refocusing our lenses to see the beauty, care and grace swirling all around us as well.

STARTING OVER

Good times become a memory,
dreams lost through selfishness.
I’m tired of living this life
waiting to be reborn in this stone cold place –
overcoming shame, my wrongdoings;
tossed and tattered, I scream — but will anyone
listen? The size of sadness cuts back like a knife.

I’m lonely, scared, terrified. I’ve pleaded
and prayed for a way to make it right,
seeking things I don’t deserve.
This life has molded me.

But good can come from nothing.

With a clean slate, I begin again,
validate these desires to start fresh
and start over, to better myself, tickle the soul
and warm the heart; to come and go as I please,
light candles in winter trees holding on
to the Divine, a good break to a bad end.

What am I waiting for?
Let me out into the snow
letting go of this life-sentence;
let me walk out of here with a smile
breathing in each different season
guided from the stars.
Let the year shine.