(Host) This holiday season, we've been sampling some of the essays recorded before a live audience at the Commentator Brunch earlier this year. When Worlds Collide was the theme - reminding commentator Marybeth Redmond of the friction that is sometimes generated when worlds exist within other worlds.
(Redmond) Marybeth Redmond - One Dignified Moment.
My writing circle fans out wider than usual tonight. Twenty-five chairs, arrayed under fluorescent lights, form more of an oval than a circle.
Women of all ages trickle through the steel door. Some are dressed in haphazard sweats and tees; others, put together in clogs and cords. Tonight is Read-Around Night, an event for guests lsquo;outside' Chittenden Correctional Facility to come lsquo;inside' and listen to the writings of these incarcerated women.
Mimi, as I'll call her, has been baking in the prison kitchen. Assigned to refreshment duty for the event, this 20-something has prepared mammoth chocolate chip cookies. She enters the room and slips a waxed-paper envelope into my hands. Inside she's tucked two warm dark chocolate chip cookies, apparently her top-shelf stash. For your son, she insists. Put lsquo;em away. Don't let anyone see lsquo;em.
The reading of words begins. Trembling hands clutch bound anthologies as the images and insights contained therein bless listeners' ears.
Across the circle from Mimi sits her look-alike sister. Earlier in the hallway, I have encouraged lsquo;Older Sister' to attend. Come-on, I say to her, be there for your Sis. Now, Older Sister perches on her seat, her slender frame wracked by anxiety.
Mimi reads in a steady voice: To be in this world means to suffer, she begins, although that suffering is a voyage, and if you learn from it, making yourself stronger and smarter, you become a soldier. Her words take on new significance. Just that evening, a correctional officer has revealed to me that Mimi's father got her using drugs as a child.
The Read-Around concludes and dessert is uncovered. Incarcerated women scurry to the spread, groping for cookies. Some stuff their clothes with two, five, too many sweets to count - contraband to take back to their units. Mimi tries to interrupt the madness without success. Her light-blue eyes flash both sadness and rage: It was a classy night, she exclaims, something real and special, but they ruined it, acting like typical inmates. I hear her sense of loss, but am inspired by her yearning for one dignified moment beyond this prison world.