Touchstone

The Touchstone Program, located on 55 acres of land in Litchfield, Connecticut, is a residential program serving girls committed to the Department of Children and Families. Gender-specific programming addresses subjects including: self esteem, pregnancy prevention, life skills, pre-vocational/vocational training, anger management skills, parenting classes, and decision making education. The young women have the opportunity to build a trusting one-on-one relationship with an Advocate counselor, and Aftercare services are provided. 

For more information on North American Family Institute, which operates Touchstone, go to their web site www.nafi.com, search for programs, and select CT.

From 1999-2014, I volunteered there, developing and administering a creative writing program that was offered to a self-selected group of girls with whom I met every Tuesday afternoon for two hours. We all wrote together; I took their poems home and typed them up to hand back the following week. In 2004 I edited and published a book of their work, I AM NOT A JUVENILE DELINQUENT, which won the PASS award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (see “Published Works” for ordering information and excerpt).The next year, Jon Baskin, a filmmaker from New York, made a 22-minute documentary about the program (see trailer below). Twice every month from 2002-2014 we went to The Hotchkiss School in Lakeville CT for a writing group I formed with their young women. An additional aspect of the program was participation in a number of guest reading experiences in Connecticut and Massachusetts as well as well as ten annual readings at the Artwell Gallery in Torrington CT and a Poetry Festival and contest each summer on the Touchstone grounds featuring 20 women poets reading with the girls.

These young women are from the harsher parts of Connecticut’s cities and towns—runaways, truants, drug users and sellers, disturbers of the peace, many taken from their homes due to physical and /or sexual abuse. Many of these young women have received little or no nurturing in their lives. They have lived in “the projects” with rats and cockroaches, horrifying betrayal and daily violence, too many people in too small a space. They are mostly black and Hispanic.  I adore them, and my passion in life is to have their voices heard in this world.

Sharon with ex-residents and former director at the 2005 Artwell reading in Torrington.

touchstone_2

Sharon with Touchstone poets and staff member Jana Wu after receiving Soroptimist award.

WHAT I WANT MY WORDS TO DO TO YOU

when I speak
I want you to listen
every sentence
every breath
every pause
I want this to sink inside of you
I want you to know
what type of shit I go through
what kind of life I live
the battle I fight from day to day

when I speak
I don’t want your sympathy
or your pity
or your
everything’s gonna be all right
why cry
if this ain’t ya life?
just listen
marinate in what I say

when I speak
I want to be visible
undressed
alive
living in your spirit
floating in your bones

I speak the truth
the whole truth
and nothing but it
don’t say a word
hush ya mouth
I’m not finished yet
hear me out
this one time
don’t shut me down

I tell you this is visible
indelible
don’t be in denial
open your mind
open your heart
open your wings
because this is what I want
my words, my verse to do to you

my words are powerful and strong
maybe that’s why sometimes I feel so alone
I don’t think before I speak
I just say what’s on my mind
that’s freedom of speech
right?
If I ain’t doin’ no crime
and you didn’t like what I just spit out
don’t blame me
if you can’t take the truth
it may hurt a lot
but trust me
it will be better for you

my words are my protectors
my shield for life
without my words
I’d probably go outta my mind

my words make me feel whole
my words are like glitter and gold
my words to you may be nothing but lip
but the words I state
the words I form into a sentence
that says something of value to me

my words
my words
my words

Shanique
10/31/06

Touchstone Documentary Trailer (2 min 39 sec)

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