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"I voted for the first time this year"

Through the jail volunteering I do, I got involved with a group called Voices from Inside, which runs creative writing workshops with incarcerated and previously incarcerated women. It's a small group, but wow, has it had a big impact on its participants and on the audiences who come to readings. I've been to one of those performances--the emotion and sense of shared purpose and support all the way around was intense.

Several of the women are on the board of the organization (which I love: this isn't just something that's bestowed from above; it's being championed by the people it serves), and one of them--a really incredibly inspiring woman--wrote the following letter for the end-of-year appeal for donations. In it she says

I began this journey as a hesitant writer in a jail writing workshop and VFI helped me find confidence in my voice and in my story. Next, VFI afforded me the opportunity to share my voice through performances in the community, and I felt the power of my voice to transform our audiences.


But this especially spoke to me:

I was surprised to learn that the incredible support the VFI facilitators, trainers and board members bring to these workshops were volunteers. I didn’t understand why they would give so much of their time, their resources. And then I joined with another participant from my writing group and led a workshop at the Young Parents Program. YPP is for parents 14-24 on benefits who are working on their High School Equivalency diplomas. Before our very eyes, we watched these young parents grow immeasurably. We watched their self-esteem blossom as they encouraged one another to share their writing. Now I get it. And I can’t wait to return.


It's not just about finding your voice--though it's about that. It's not just about overcoming trauma (which she also writes about eloquently)--though it's definitely about that, too. It's about seeing the power you have to make a difference, to see that your volunteering is helping people. You're not only a receiver, you're also a giver.

And this woman, she's just amazing. I wish you could hear her speak, how she galvanizes an audience. Below the cut is the complete text of the letter, if you're curious, and below that are some links to the Voices from Inside website, plus some pictures from performances.


I voted for the first time this year. What does this have to do with VFI writing workshops? Everything. Voices From Inside has motivated me to change my thinking: having been kidnapped and raped, I had to learn that in order to get help, it wasn't enough just to want change. I had to take action. VFI started as a huge tool in my recovery process that through my writing has helped with my personal trauma. Writing has been therapeutic for me and has transformed me not into a perfect person but into a real person, someone that other women can relate to. I found out that I am not alone.

As a woman that comes from the streets of Springfield, in and out of jail, selling myself for less, literally, drug addicted, mentally ill, sexually abused, raped, feeling hopeless, and spiritually bankrupt, I have been motivated to take action and seek treatment. The desire to help other women like me was awoken because it’s no longer just about me, it’s about my peers and the women in our community that struggle with trauma.

I began this journey as a hesitant writer in a jail writing workshop and VFI helped me find confidence in my voice and in my story. Next, VFI afforded me the opportunity to share my voice through performances in the community, and I felt the power of my voice to transform our audiences. Now, we are working with Neighbor to Neighbor through a grant from the Women’s Fund to harness that power into political action and to be a part of positive change in our communities. I am 47 years old, and I voted for the first time.

And for the first time, I feel heard. I look forward to becoming a different type of statistic. I want to be that addict, that victim, that makes it. I am fighting to continue my education and to fight for women in the community that have been suffering with trauma, drug addiction, and mental illness.

I was surprised to learn that the incredible support the VFI facilitators, trainers and board members bring to these workshops were volunteers. I didn’t understand why they would give so much of their time, their resources. And then I joined with another participant from my writing group and led a workshop at the Young Parents Program. YPP is for parents 14-24 on benefits who are working on their High School Equivalency diplomas. Before our very eyes, we watched these young parents grow immeasurably. We watched their self-esteem blossom as they encouraged one another to share their writing. Now I get it. And I can’t wait to return.

But we can’t do all of this great work on volunteer power alone. I hope that you see how important it is for you to give to VFI. We continue to reach women with workshops while they are incarcerated. And we have new women fresh out of jail battling the transition process joining VFI/Out. Your support allows the women of our group to step into the leadership roles that we are destined for and welcome these women into a family that encourages and celebrates their voices. Our work on the outside is growing. We are hungry for change and we are working to affect the larger community with the power of our experiences and our voices. We are working to change policy and also to inspire younger generations to avoid the pitfalls we have met and encourage healthier outlets for trauma.

Many of you support us in spirit. We are asking you today to support us financially. With your strength, your belief in us, we can continue to show that, no matter where we come from, where we have been, when we come together we can prove ourselves leaders. Our strength may not be in our muscles, it lies within us. Let us continue to motivate, encourage and empower one another.


Some photos from performances






There are more photos from performances here.

Here's a link to information about VFI's 2013 Family Storybook Project, where inmates and their kids wrote and illustrated stories together. I hope they get a grant to do this again sometime.

Here's a link to information about the performances the women give.

And here's a link to information about the writing workshops.

...aaaaannnd, here's the donate page.

P.S. If you can't see what's on their shirts, and you're wondering, it says, "My greatest secret I keep on a piece of paper." It's a quote from one woman's poem.


Comments

( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
heliopausa
Nov. 30th, 2015 03:35 pm (UTC)
This is very, very lovely. Thank you.
dinahprincedaly
Nov. 30th, 2015 03:36 pm (UTC)
splendid! heartwarming

cmcmck
Nov. 30th, 2015 04:04 pm (UTC)
Excellent.

The power of the written word!
cucumberseed
Nov. 30th, 2015 08:25 pm (UTC)
Thank you for posting this.
sartorias
Dec. 1st, 2015 01:23 am (UTC)
Wow, that's pretty amazing.
khiemtran
Dec. 1st, 2015 09:36 am (UTC)
Inspiring, indeed!
pdlloyd
Dec. 2nd, 2015 03:25 am (UTC)
So moving. While my work is at the community college with a general population, several of the students I've worked with over the years have spent time in prison. Their stories can be very powerful.

I'm so impressed by all the wonderful work you've been doing. Not just what you mention here, but in many posts. Your travels and your advocacy are an extraordinary gift.
asakiyume
Dec. 2nd, 2015 12:27 pm (UTC)
And thank you for *your* work. I don't feel like I do much, but I think anything people do in friendship makes a difference.

In the letter, the woman mentions working with young teen parents and feeling energized by helping them. At the one reading I went to, a girl who'd been through that program for teen parents--but before the creative writing element had been brought in--talked about what a great idea that was and how she would have loved to participate. It was there right before my eyes, the difference all these efforts make, and the determination of people themselves to overcome the obstacles in front of them.
thewronghands
Dec. 2nd, 2015 07:51 am (UTC)
Thanks for sharing; those are powerful stories and it's awesome to hear good news like that.
mnfaure
Dec. 4th, 2015 07:45 pm (UTC)
So many people have stories--and so many other people need to hear those stories--and it is fantastic that people are out volunteering in order to help these people be heard, help them realize they have a gift and a power that they've probably discounted all their lives, assuming they even knew of its existence.
asakiyume
Dec. 5th, 2015 01:26 pm (UTC)
The way it transformed the letter writer's life, and the way *she's* now transforming people's lives, is just so inspiring.
genarti
Dec. 4th, 2015 09:07 pm (UTC)
Oh, wow. What an eloquent and deeply moving and amazing letter.
asakiyume
Dec. 5th, 2015 01:26 pm (UTC)
I felt so too--I asked if I could share it here because it just blew me away.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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