without falling apart yesterday, but just barely.
I’m working with women now, and while we don’t directly address the circumstances that lead to their incarceration, addiction comes up frequently. As does motherhood.
One of my writers was prostituting herself at age eleven to feed her mother’s addiction. She’s a mother and an addict herself now. To solve this problem we put her in jail. She got kicked out of my class for some unnamed misbehavior. I’m guessing a fight with another inmate. If I feel rage at her heartbreaking fate, what must she feel?
I think about all of them all the week in between our meetings. I think about their kids. I think about how much they’d love to be taking a walk, or making dinner, or taking a shower unobserved. Or hugging their kids.
I bring a few dozen used books every week and they snatch them up, starved for escape.
I bring word prompts I write on a whiteboard and they choose one and start writing. So much pain scratching itself out across the page.
If a writer is feeling brave, she can read her piece aloud. Yesterday, the shared wound was so fresh we were all in tears. Then someone applauded and it turned to cheers.
I bring poems and short prose pieces, and visual images clipped from donated art magazines to use as writing prompts. In that gray place the pictures spread out on the table are like artifacts from the living world. They bloom.
Project director Celina Santana brings inspiration and life skills to these women once a week with her program, The Three Principles. A perfect complement to the writing workshop.
When this session with the women ends in a few weeks, I’m starting another session with the men. And this summer, I’ll be guiding a workshop, Resistance & Resilience: A Memoir Workshop of the Jim Crow Era, which will meet at the Colored Community Library Museum in Portsmouth. I’m guessing the tears will flow there, too. We’ll be collecting the stories of that era, which isn’t over, and archiving it at the museum.
At the same time, Project Director Rachel Thompson will be guiding workshops for at-risk teen boys at two group homes.
I’ve spent too long lamenting the state of the world and watching other people try to fix it. This work we’re doing, this Seven Cities Writers Project is an attempt to get our hands in.
We give what we have, which is a love of words and what words can do: break you open; expose your true self; heal.
I’ve been so honored to be the disciple of words for these forgotten people. And to be in a position to share their work with the world on our blog: (freshandlocalblog.wordpress.com).
I know a writer in Austin who guides a writing workshop in a homeless shelter. We agreed that as writers and super-sensitive types we are perfectly suited for this work. Then we agreed that as writers and super-sensitive types we are wholly unsuited for this work. We also agreed that we’d found the work of our lives, the very best job there is. We get so much more than we give.
I hope you’ll help us by giving what you can to our Go Fund Me campaign (https://www.gofundme.com/give-to-7cwp).
Our goal of $25,000 is a dream – it would fund year-round projects in the jail, and multiple Jim Crow workshops, expand the at-risk youth projects to include homeless teens. But every dollar counts.
Please help us continue to give voice to the voiceless. Thank you.