Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Hear me, See me: Incarcerated Women Write

Munro has heard that voice. She has spent her life laughing at it, recording it for centuries to come, and in the lives of girls and women, silencing it.

“Alice, come out from behind the tool shed and pick up the phone,” tweeted Margaret Atwood on being told that the Nobel Committee had had the most difficult time getting ahold of Munro very early this morning to tell her the news.

How wonderful. That’s Munro dialogue. Who do you think you are, Alice, sleeping off a party while perfectly nice Swedes are trying to give you a million dollars and some bubbly champagne nonsense. Answer the phone, Alice. That’s a nation crying out to you. Take that call.  

Heather Mallick  for The Toronto Star

Hear Me, See Me: Incarcerated Women Write
I received in the mail a copy of Hear Me; See me the new anthology from WWFAC Vermont-edited by Sarah Bartlett the owner of WWfaC Vermont. Sarah is also the facilitator and outreach director of Writing Inside-VT a prison writing program at the Chittendon County Correctional Center in Burlington, Vermont.  I read the book cover to cover in one morning: poem after poem, prose piece after prose piece written by the women of a faraway corrections center.  I was amazed at how the stories of the women in the Vermont corrections center are so much like the stories of the women in the Monroe County Corrections Center, where my colleagues and I volunteer to lead writing circles on Saturday afternoons. (We have been writing with incarcerated women for 8 years now.) All the stories are individual, all unique, but collectively the truth is familiar, and painful, and just a bit hopeful.
So last Saturday when I went into the jail, I took these writers and their words with me. I made copies of poems from Hear me, See me, and I spread them out in our circle and let the women of the MCCC pick which poems they liked and write a response. They worked happily and quietly.  They shared favorite quotes and poems between them. They talked about the woman who chose drugs over her kids, the one who missed her mother, the one who was abused by her mother, and the one who never knew her father. They talked about what they had in common. There were poems to God for help and strength, and there was a strong recognition that they were not alone. Here are women in another state sad and struggling and regretful, yet optimistic.  Here were other people like them who found solace through writing and community.

Later that day, as I prepared to mail the words and notes of my writers off to Vermont, I was reminded of the article in the Toronto Star last week when they recognized-short story writer Alice Munro as she received the Nobel Prize for literature. She never really expected to win anything like the Nobel Prize. She did what we all do, day after day, circle after circle; poem after poem. She spoke her truth, quietly and clearly, refusing to be silenced. I believe whether we win the Noble prize or just write tiny poems from block G, it is all about letting our voice be heard, truly, refusing to be silenced anymore.

AMY for the PGM

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