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Sarah W. Bartlett on Hear Me, See Me: Incarcerated Women Write

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hear me see meAUTHOR’S NOTE: Sarah W. Bartlett on Hear Me, See Me: Incarcerated Women Write

 – HEAR ME, SEE ME: Incarcerated Women Write is a collection of the poetry and prose of over 60 women incarcerated in Vermont’s sole women’s prison, where over 85% are mothers. Much of their writing centers on stories of loss, shame, pride and despair surrounding disrupted relationships with children. Stories to break your heart, where addiction is stronger than love for the child ultimately left behind:

… my first love,
the one I gave away –
her nose up to the window,
watching me drive away.
Crying for me (the only one
that can comfort her);
and I still drive away.  – DG

Stories of shame, humiliation and even hope:

Will my children tell whole stories?
Will they dance?
Will they be able to push down
beyond the scars and faults?
Oh, how I pray they be filled
with a sense of their own
belonging, to be fruit
undamaged.  – NL

Stories of unbearable longing – for children lost both physically and by virtue of the system separating them from their mothers:


… to be loved, needed
to be a mother again.
I just want my children to remember me,
say ‘that’s My Mom’
know I still love and need them…
I want my life back
to be a mother again. – DB

This book of unedited, raw writings grew from our blog dedicated to the writings by Vermont’s incarcerated women. For five years we have held weekly writing circles inside. For five years, women have found solace, strength and motivation from the structured community space we hold for them with safety, respect and acceptance.

Several public readings have shown, over and over, how little those of us on the ‘outside’ truly understand that any one of those women ‘inside’ could be us, a daughter, mother, family member or friend. We all make poor choices from time to time. Most of us never get caught. But for those women raised in generations of poverty, addiction and abuse, the possible ways out are few. And once inside, the commonalities we all share as women are far more starkly apparent than differences.

To see more writings, visit

HEAR ME, SEE ME: Incarcerated Women Write, ed Marybeth C Redmond and Sarah W Bartlett, Orbis Books, 2013 is available at Orbis Books and Amazon.

Sarah W. Bartlett has directed Women Writing for (a) Change in Vermont since 2004. The practices and tools of this nationally recognized conscious feminine writing community form the basis for the prison program. In late 2009 she invited long-time humanitarian journalist Marybeth Redmond to work her in co-creating writing inside VT.  The program has been running continuously since January 2010. A blog of the women’s writings – which led to the invitation to create the book – can be found at


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