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  1. Introducing Yourself

  2. Readings to Set the Stage: Drawing on one or two of the stories you selected. 

  3. Introductions around the writing circle using the “If your words had the power” prompt). 

  4. Modeling of the Page One Moment: Using a collage of the examples you selected. 

  5. Playacting the “Page One Moment” around the  writing circle, until everyone comes up with their own “Aha” starting place. 

  6. Leaving each writer with a writing task structured around their “Aha” to bring back to share at the next meeting.

  7. Beginning to Use Your Story Tracking Log

How do we ensure each person’s safety for the time that the journey will take?  

We have set up this curriculum so that it can be used with one or two people or with a large group of 25 people or more.   

Depending on how and where you create your writing circle, whether it is taking place in person or via zoom, with real life interference and faulty video connection, it may be as formal as mandated by the staff of the prison or jail where you are working, with participants called down every week by the corrections officers, and corrections officers attending to every word. Or it may be completely informal, as you work with people whenever they are able to meet with you.   

In this chapter we will be meeting with Marcellus and Aysiah Morris, who volunteered for this project to work on stories to heal prison families that experienced incarceration across the generations. We will be meeting first in Marcellus’ kitchen, when father and daughter are together for a visit, and then later when they are zooming in from different states. We will be encountering Marcellus as he practices reading his first chapter aloud in his bathroom, in preparation for a major conference,  the only quiet space available on that day.

Using Oral Imaging to ensure each person’s safety, while developing group bonding and parameters from the start

Imagine that you have introduced yourself and the goals of the project. Perhaps you have read to the group one or two of the stories you have selected to set the stage for the work ahead. Maybe you have printed copies and had the participants take turns reading them aloud. Or, if you are working remotely, you have projected it on the zoom screen.  Hearing it aloud is definitely part of the magic. 

We see narrative structures as safe houses in which our memories and daydreams can comfortably reside. 


The more you can guide your writing circle toward helping each member find a moment of internal or external drama that aligns with a larger truth, quest or understanding, the more engaging, but also the safer, the journey will be. 

Your job as the facilitator will be to be a moderator for structure, not content, as you lead each participant into making their story more moving and real for the reader.  This will protect you and the writing circle from the dangers of playing therapist, critic, or judge.  It will set the stage for people to collectively brainstorm about how each writer can create more empathy, while providing very concrete writing tools.

In the words of Pat Gorman, a Herstory writer exploring her Native American roots: “We write to discover what changed us.  We extract the external events that best create dramatic tension to describe the inner journey.  And this is our opportunity to invent.”

The more deliberately these “houses” are established, the freer we will be in our openness to surprises, because we will be standing on solid ground.

Oral Imaging

If your words had the power, where would the imaginary Stranger/Reader

first meet you?

It is time for the oral imaging to begin, to fast forward the group from imagining if their words had the power to play-acting the Page One Moments that will form the core of their writing journeys, as they try on different moments for size.

In most situations people introduce themselves by telling a bit about who they are in real life.  If you jump right into asking “If your words had the power, what would you wish them to do,” you give people the power to say as much or little about themselves as they wish.  This is particularly important to people in carceral settings, who have many reasons why it isn’t safe to reveal themselves. If people who have been called together by a carceral officer or counselor, coming from many different parts of a prison or jail, this gives them the chance to feel out one another and find common ground about what they want to change. Conversely, if they are in a situation where they know one another all too well,  where they eat, sleep, and shower and pee in front of one another and have no privacy at all, it provides a boundary and safe ground.  


Simultaneously, for you as a workshop facilitator, this allows you to listen for the first page one moments in the bits of personal telling that peek through, without jumping on them or intruding on the form that each person’s story will take.  It allows you to  hear the strength and desire in each person’s oral imaging without peeling the layers off too fast.  

When you work to evoke oral imaging,  don’t short-change your own oral imaging to get things started.  Remember how Victoria and Margarita imaged their own responses in Chapter I.  

If you give just one example before you turn it over to the writing circle, the exercise will fall dead.  If you give a collage of examples, they will begin to feel their way to their own.  

Now listen to how Marcellus and Aysiah build on this exercise,  as they prepare to write together to get the word out and heal.

Marcellus and Aysiah

Did you hear how both Marcellus and Aysiah started in a safe place, in talking about their wishes for a change. This allows the participants to relax into thinking about words and power, before we dare them to go deeper. 

By the time Aysiah answers the prompt to think about justice in a broader way, she is able to jump right into the place where her own personal story begins. 

We like to compare it to a volleyball game, where people get into a rhythm of picking up on whatever is served their way.    

Now listen for another minute and a half to the way that Marcellus is able to send the volley ball back.

Marcellus Morris

Notice how this process allows each participant to reveal as much or as little about their personal stories as they wish.  They become the captains of their own ships, so to speak, in that we haven’t asked them for any facts about themselves,  but the process of thinking about what might happen if their words had the power has led them there.

Note that for economy's sake, we are sharing this process with just two people, bouncing off one another, with the facilitator building on the echoes.  

As you apply this to your own writing circle it is important to have everyone participate in the oral imaging, whether you are working with a very small group or a large one. As you repeat the prompts for each new speaker, you will need to say less and less in between.   

If you encounter a lull, you can return to a few more examples of what you might wish for, if your words had the power to change a heart, mind, or policy. 

Now let us switch gears to join a remarkable young man who is working with these same exercises in a life skills class in Hempstead High School on Long Island. 

Shevan Williams

Notice how he is able to look at the question of “If your words had the power” in a way that becomes inseparable from his own life?  Notice how he rises into his own voice and power with each word of oral imaging that he adds.

Notice that the voice here is not one of an interview or a speech. Rather, the command to image orally as if one were writing it calls forth a different kind of eloquence.  

Playacting the Page One Moment

Marcellus and Aysiah

Did you notice how Marcellus got his courage to go deeper through listening to Aysiah, who dared to take him and the reader she was beginning to imagine into the courtroom, where the repetition of family patterns was so poignant. 

Did you notice his absolute sense of power and pleasure when his “Page One Moment” came to him so suddenly through the process?  (Note that this led him to take much more seriously his desire to write a book to help other families.)

Without the opportunity to image aloud “if your words had the power,” going “back there” might have been too painful. But now, a safer space was created for the memories to only slowly emerge through the creation of scene where the spirit– even under oppression– could shine

Remember that the magic is in very quietly picking up echoes, so that each person’s internal drumbeat, like a heartbeat can emerge. 

Your role as workshop facilitator, is to very gently and quietly pick up the beat, as each person adds a new page one example.  In order to do this, you might have to return to the collage of Page One Examples that you have prepared whenever there is a lull in the circle,  but gradually your examples can disappear as the people in the circle take over with their own.

In Chapter One, Margarita and Victoria gave us a few examples of fruitful page one moments they might use to inspire a new writing circle.  As you draw on the well packed suitcase of Page One Examples from your readings and your own experiences of people and their stories that might speak to an audience in carceral settings,  listen to another example that Margarita offers, that you can borrow to interweave with those emerging from the circle.

Try to listen to the storytelling structure, even more than the content, because it is important for you to model this as the drumming circle takes over.  

Margarita Espada

If You Were the Puppeteer

In Chapter One, we spoke of becoming an invisible puppeteer, as you listen to the way people so often bounce from memory to memory in this process, as they seek the shape that their stories will take.

Marcellus had clearly found his Page One Moment in the video clip you just viewed,  however his mind was racing as he made one connection after the other, in a rapid fire stream of consciousness.  

He was excited by the Page One Moment unearthing process and kept finding more and more. As you listen to this segment, knowing that there is no single right answer, listen for the opportunities and obstacles in each new Page One Moment he is trying on for size  

Leaving Each Player With a Writing Task

It is time now for your first workshop to draw to a close.   Depending on how many participants you will need to allocate 5 to 10 minutes to circle back to everyone a final time,  to invite them to start to write during the week (or whatever other interval you will have between your workshop session).

This is a good time to remind everyone that they will be reading aloud, to share what they are creating, so that you want them not to worry about grammar or written form.  No one else will have to see what they produce.  It is important to remind them that the best writing is often what we call “jaggedy” coming straight from the heart.   And important to echo the possible page one moments you heard around the circle for each person,  whether it was a single one or three or four.

We often will speak about how these moments morph and change, sometimes when we are taking a walk, or standing under the shower, or drinking a hot cup of tea,  so they don’t have to stick to what they modeled in the workshop.

Finally we talk about our desire to hear the first writings, how we will be thinking of the images as the week unfolds. We talk about how the second workshop of any series is the most exciting one of all, when the first writings are shared. 

The more you leave everyone with your own desire to hear what they will be producing, the more likely you will be to evoke an answering call.

Now, it is time to create your Story Tracking Log. 

Story tracking log2
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