the last women alive

She is clothed in strength and dignity and she laughs without fear of the future.
-Proverbs 31:25

A woman is like a teabag, you cannot tell how strong she it until you put her in hot water. – Nancy Reagan

What if we were the last women left alive? What if it all went wrong–horseman and trumpets, flood, general annihilation, and the only building left in the world was the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility and we had to rebuild civilization with what was left? What would the new world know?

Below, you’ll read what. We asked that question last Thursday and we didn’t deny we all think about it. Those doors close behind you with a metal clench that resounds off the cinderblocks and you think, “What if these are the last wall I see? The last faces?” But you shrug it off, that fatalistic notion. We sit down and make a life for ourselves in that room. We assess, as a group, what we have, what it means to live, to think, to write, to be a woman, man, human.

This month is women’s history month so we’re focusing on what it means to carry around any aspect of the feminine. After I read the poem, these women set up trust faster than you can inflate a life raft and just about covered it – the loss, triumph, beauty, strength, vulnerability – the grit and gold of the feminine all lived for a couple hours in that room. It was more than enough, near enough to build a world on. You’ll see. Read on.

FOUND POEM – 3/12/15 Continue reading

thanksgiving feather

Credit: photodictionary

During this season, it is natural for us to think about our blessings and gratitudes; and in the case of women incarcerated during holiday seasons, what we most miss at this time of year. For the  next several posts, we’ll share some of the more poignant writings from the women at Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in Burlington, VT as they remember, yearn, mourn or feel relief at their distance from family this week.

Opened door, coats taken and hung
so many it becomes a balancing act,
an architectural puzzle of how to fit
them all on the rack

Hugs all around, eight aunts, eight uncles
30-something cousins
hellos, how are you’s, what have you been up to’s

Hors d’oeuvres set out, wine bottles opened, beers cracked
children scattering around the yard

Tables set, dishes heated, the laughter and
chatter and cheer from the game on the wide screen

And then comes the time to sit for dinner –
but first our tradition, the most important of family traditions:
the construction paper turkey where we each receive a feather
to write what it is we are grateful for

Then before we begin our feast, we each receive
another’s feather, read it aloud and try to guess
who wrote what

 I always used to dread the cheesy feather game
thinking ‘only my family,’ ‘we’re lunatics,’
‘how embarrassing!’

But now that is what I am most grateful for . . .
the symphonic chaos of our clan
the unorchestrated dance in the kitchen
the unconditional love, the feast; and yes

even the feather.

JL

transitions remind us of gratitude

Tonight, we talked about the many transitions represented in our culture by the month of June: graduation/commencements; weddings; the solstice; end of school year; and so many more. For writinginsideVT, another transition is the end of our second grant from Vermont Arts Council and National Endowment for the Arts. We celebrated this past three months of amazing writing with the compilation and distribution of a 90-page anthology of writings from the women inside CRCF who write with us weekly.

In keeping with a spirit of gratitude for the many transitions we have overseen – women coming to voice, discovering what is most important to them, making healthier choices for their lives (to name a few) – as well as the abundant support we have garnered over the years for this work, we thought to share some gratitudes directly from the hands of participants themselves. Each week we end our writing circle with comments about the session – generally in the form of gifts/challenges; what worked/didn’t; and so on. Clearly we have far too many to share here. However, a few selected comments from the past three months will help you feel and understand the gratitude that keeps us coming back week after week:

Gifts – hearing everybody’s summer joy; made me happy and joyful. Challenges – inspiration for summer, since I’m in jail every summer.

Gifts – working with someone new, gaining their perspective. Challenges – to remain open to something I was unsure of.

What made me happy? just coming to group and being in a great environment. What made me sad? my writing made my emotions go crazy . . .

I was inspired by memories of my childhood hideaway; I was challenged in listening to compliments gracefully; I have always felt uncomfortable, but I’m learning.

Inspired me—seeing how strong we all have become; challenged me—saying goodbye to a friend.

The gifts were the women sharing their writings, their emotions. Challenges were reading what I wrote back to the group. Listening to my words being read gave my emotion substance.

I’m new to this group and it was good to hear the women express themselves in different ways other than hurtful, hateful ways.

Thanks for coming every chance you can.

I liked the way this group went, there was a lot of strong sentences, very powerful words which I related with on a personal level. Didn’t like being out of my comfort zone, pertaining to the way some of the poems made me feel. Hard reading out loud!!!

My respect for the women in this circle is what grew; Self-doubt shrank away somewhat.

I loved the poetry and the centeredness of the room atmosphere.

Grew: strength, hope, connection. Shrank: insecurity

I remembered what it was like to be 15 again. I forgot, temporarily . . . as I always do in group, that I was in jail.

What grew in me was my self-worth; what faded were negative thoughts regarding my past, thinking the damage that is done is unrepairable.

Grew: astonishment, admiration, humility—appreciation for the courage here, the love.  Faded: fear, feelings of inadequacy.