Write of Passage
Shakopee Women’s Correctional Facility ~
Write of Passage ~ Shakopee Women’s Correctional Facility ~ Poetry Writing Workshops
Workshop series at Shakopee Women’s Correctional Facility in Minnesota offers women inmates a medium through which to express themselves, process their experience of being in prison, gain healing and empowerment, and build community through poem-making.
These workshops are fully funded by IPM, offered 1-2 times a year, reaching about 10 women in each session. In 2021, we created Roots & Wings Anthology, a collection of poems written by scholarship recipients. Each woman received two copies, one for herself and one to share with family or friends.
From the Facilitator, Meredith Heller in October 2021:
Growing Roots & Wings
When I received a grant from the Institute of Poetic Medicine to offer my poetry workshops to women in need, I never imagined how the experience would transform me, how I would be called to dig deep to guide a new tribe of women writers, let alone meet and fall in love with eight women in a correctional facility in Minnesota. And when a Covid outbreak occurred at the prison, which prevented us from meeting as a group on Zoom, I quickly created a five-video series, worksheets to accompany each session, and I responded to their poems each week via email. Thankfully, I received permission to meet with the women on Zoom in groups of one or two for the first and last classes of the series. The first class was so they would know I’m a real person with heart and humor and a pocketful of wisdom from having navigated my own way through the darkness. The last class was to make closure, to hear them read their pieces aloud, to offer real-time feedback, letting them know their words had been heard and that their poems had reached and moved me. I honored the beauty of the rawness and vulnerability they shared in their writing, their willingness to address the issues that got them into prison, the loss and grieving they face on a daily basis, the diligence it takes to turn their lives around, and the determination to heal their past, to grow, and to try again. It was all of this that made me fall in love with these women. But it was during the last class when I noticed a few of them hugging my book to their chest, saying, “We’ll miss watching you on the videos each week. You’re funny and fierce, passionate and wise, and just damn cool.” To which I smiled and winked, “Takes one to know one.” And they continued, “But we have your book now as our guide, and we want to keep writing.” This is what brings me to tears.
We, each of us, make a difference in each other’s lives. The women in my workshops and especially at the prison, opened my heart and reminded me that we’re all here learning. Sometimes we make big mistakes and get in big trouble that gets us locked away for 5 or 10 or 20+ years, and sometimes we make mistakes that land us behind the bars of our own hearts. The real trial happens within; whether we give in to hopelessness in ourselves and society or whether we’re willing to stand up and try again. In my book, Write a Poem, Save Your Life, I tell the story of how poetry writing saved my life when I was a young teen, living on my own in the woods, having given up hope in myself and others. Writing poetry and songs saved my life by teaching me how not to abandon myself, but rather, how to befriend myself, giving myself permission to be confused, to be a mess, to be lost and lonely and miserable, to make terrible choices for myself again and again, and finally to learn and grow; to be human. This is what motivated me on my mission to share the power of poetic medicine. That my journey and my book offer a trail guide and companion for people struggling to find their way, is my harvest.
Whether we’re locked up in prison, quarantine, or the confines of our own body/mind, writing offers a path to an expressive, redemptive freedom. I think about when the women’s prison terms are up and they make a life for themselves back out in the world, the way they hold themselves, how they talk to themselves, what they feel and think when they look at themselves in the mirror, and my hope is that the honesty and permission they met themselves with in their writing is a salve and a vehicle of atonement, dignity, transformation, and possibility for them as it continues to be for me. I see myself in the many women I work with every day from diverse walks of life, and I know that I too, am still a work in progress, learning and growing, still making the choice every day to stand up, try again, and write it down. And after working with the women inmates, I find I stand a little taller, my heart open to the sun, my core fluent with kindness.
Programs offered per year
Participants in each series
Total participants so far