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Moving from "if your words had the power"
to finding your own "page one moment"

Now that you have immersed yourself in a few of the stories we’ve collected for this website, imagining how you might use them in to launch your first workshops, and have worked with the concepts behind “Becoming the Stranger Reader,” it is time for you to work with a partner or a small team to begin to construct your own Page One Moment in order to experience the pedagogy in action.

Starting out with a collage of examples

In order to replicate the effect of the collage of Page One Moment examples, deliberately intended to blend and blur until the listener comes up with an example that is truly their own, we suggest that you and your partner or partners read the following examples aloud to one another while letting your minds wander.   

  • Would the Stranger/Reader find you in a prison waiting room, noticing how scared and lonely the other people appear as they wait to visit their loved ones, and suddenly you overcome your shyness and begin to talk to some of the families, and before you know it you have established the roots of what will become Prison Families Anonymous, an international organization that continues for 60 years?

  • Or would the Stranger/Reader meet you as you are pushing your two children in a stroller outside of Nassau County Correctional Facility, not knowing whether to hope that they will be able to see their father in a high window or to hope they will never see him again. (This is the actual beginning of Barbara Allan’s book Doing Our Time on the Outside, which she wrote alongside children of the incarcerated, and which recently was turned into a play)

  • Would the Stranger/ Reader meet you at the moment when you are returning home to your three children and they don’t want you to take them out for a treat?

  • Or would the Stranger/ Reader meet you during a moment of childhood when you are innocently playing doctor and everything in your world collapses and collides?

  • Would we meet you as you are riding a mountain bike on a dark night into a dangerous ravine, but suddenly feeling exhilarated and free during the first several months of your sobriety, as a prelude to a memoir about rising from oppression and harm?

  • Would you be a child sent to scout dangerous tunnels to cross over the border between Mexico and the United States?  

  • Or would we meet you as a child watching your mother die of addiction, deciding that you would never let drugs rule your life, but that you would become the best drug dealer of all? 

  • Would we meet you when you were a soldier in Afghanistan taking drugs to avert the fear and pain, and then jump into flashbacks of hiding in an abandoned building to escape your mother’s violence?

  • Or would we meet you as a divinity school professor, teaching a course in restorative justice behind bars, when the question “To whom would you like to apologize?” opens pages and pages of reflection about the nature of restorative justice teaching itself, with so many life stories woven in?

  • Would you be a girl holding your father’s gun to try to protect your mother from his anger?

  • Or we meet you as a judge in your court room at the moment you learn that one of the young people who seemed to have healed through your court has taken his own life?

  • Would we meet you in a women's prison in China doing research when suddenly in the courtyard someone brings you a folding chair to better listen to the women’s stories?

  • Would you be five years into your ten-year sentence, afraid to step out of line, when an older woman walking by without stopping says good morning as you pass her, and that single “Good morning,” delivered with kindness changes your whole view of recovery, human service and life?

  • Would you be standing next to a young girl in line to see family in prison, when memories of your own girlhood come back? 

These are just a few of the Page One Moments that grew out of the work we have done with people who have become workshop facilitators and advocates over the past 20 years. 

And now we invite you to join Melvin Phillips, our new Stranger/ Reader, as he listens to the others in the writing circle as they move from “If Your Words had the Power” into modeling their Page One Moments.”

Because oral imaging is so important, and because, once you begin, you will be modeling it around your own writing circles, we invite you to watch the way a few of Herstory’s carceral justice fellows modeled this exercise for Mel, who is our new Stranger/Reader, a newcomer to their cohort. This is the very first time Mel has met the cohort, so that everyone is addressing their  attention to fast forwarding him into creating his own Page One Moment based on what he wants his words to say.  Especially in carceral settings, groups can be very fluid, so it is important to see this as a rolling, welcoming process in which a new stranger can join at any moment, and it only enriches the group dynamic.  


As you watch this Zoom video, feel free to jot down your quick response to “If your words had the power,” while you let your mind wander through images for your own Page One Moment. 


As you watch, take note of what happens to you as a listener when there are so many examples that it is hard for you to keep track.  This is a very deliberate part of the process, because if you give just one or two examples, it becomes an assignment and the new writer cannot find their own way.  If you give ten or eleven examples, or even five or six, you can be very sure that the listener will be so confused, they will have to come up with a different example all their own.  


As you watch, think of the role of the writing community. Notice how each speaker builds upon what the others are offering up, like a heartbeat, like a drum beat, so that what is orally imaged is the process itself, not an explanation of it. It is a kind of deep imaging that people don’t normally do before an audience, which makes the space both daring and protected, as the newcomer enters the imaging stage. 


As you watch, feel free to begin typing your own page one moment if you feel so inspired. Stop the tape or rewind it as often as you wish. Very often, in our writing circles, people begin writing even as others are reading. And this is the biggest compliment of all.   

Welcomig Mel

We sometimes compare this sharing of Page One Moments around the writing circle to the childhood game of musical chairs. While you are listening your mind wanders from what is being shared to images of your own moments and scenes, as if you are walking around listening to the music and thinking your own thoughts.  And then suddenly the music stops and you need to run to grab a chair.  The facilitator says, “Now it’s your turn,” and either you jump at it or you pass for bit.  


Now listen to how Mel echoes the process by first talking about what might happen if his words had the power, and then plunging right into his opening scene as he images it aloud.

Mel's Response

Coming Back to Earth


We have gone a very deep journey together. People ask whether there should be a calm way or ending each writing session, especially in settings where counseling help isn’t readily available if strong feelings are stirred. 


We are careful to try to avoid retraumatization by looking at each memory and scene from the point of view of the power and spirit, but sometimes it is necessary to land in the more everyday world before the officer comes in to gather the prisoners, or time is otherwise suddenly up.  


We did not want to break the spell when we first introduced our cohort members to Mel, by having everyone talk about what they were doing in real life, but as we close the session we share this, to add to the motivation and sense of community.


In carceral settings especially, it is a great equalizer not to ask real life questions or elicit true confessions, but rather to meet at the point of imagining the power of one’s words and choosing a Page One Moment that doesn’t need to tell the whole story.  It is important for people to know that they are the captains of their ships, so to speak, and that the choice of frame will be theirs alone   


So we invite you to meet Mel, Lijun, Chad, Graham and Caroline in real life, as you think of the relationship between your Page One Moment and how you would like to apply this work.  

If our words had the power
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