Life After The Slammer: A journey of inspiration, insight and oddity. 

 

For just over five years Geraldine was involved in bringing creativity, hope and inspiration into Maryland prisons and jails, first as a volunteer and then, for almost two and a half years as a chaplain at the Maryland Correctional Training Center – Maryland’s largest men’s prison.

Since then she has been catapulted into the world of professional storytelling and speaking, traveling throughout the US and as far away as New Zealand bringing programs that cause people to laugh and think. She has performed everywhere from people's living rooms to being a featured performer at the National Festival in Jonesborough, TN - the jewel in the crown of the storytelling world.

Join Geraldine as she writes about her life after hanging up her chaplain's hat and taking to the storytelling road.

Sunday
May142017

Mother's Day 2017

I remember the first time anyone ever wished me Happy Mother's Day. It was twelve years ago. At the end of a service where I preached, in a church behind the razor wire, 240 convicted felons stood up and in unison proclaimed "Happy Mother's Day" and my heart melted. The same thing happened at the end of the next service. Those big burly men, who were missing their own mothers, have no idea how much that meant to this woman who never bore a child and yet spiritually mothered many.

Three years later I became the Protestant chaplain at that same prison and those men became my sons. Around that time someone who hadn't seen me for years asked my brother how many children I had. His response was " she has boys, 2,700 of them. She's a very prolific breeder!"

After becoming the chaplain, every Mother's Day until I left, those men made me cards that dozens signed and that I proudly displayed in my office. Each one touched my heart and were symbols of God's incredible grace and love. In the middle of that dark, cold, hard place they needed a mother and I needed sons. I have never viewed Mother's Day in the same way since.

So to all the women who have never borne children but who have cared for another woman's either spiritually or physically. To all the mothers whose children cannot be with you because of distance, death, or incarceration. To all the women whose heart aches amid the day's festivities. May this day be filled with supernatural love and grace. And may this Mother's Day, and all the ones to come in your future, miraculously turn out to be happy. Amen.

Wednesday
Jul292015

A New Storytelling Endeavor 

Such fabulous news!  For years people have been talking about starting an annual storytelling festival within the Washington DC metro area - but despite brave, indeed brilliant, attempts it has never happened - until now!  I am thrilled to announce the First Annual Capitol Area Storytelling Festival that will be held November 13th and 14th 2015, at Washington ArtWorks in Rockville, MD

The tellers are Donald Davis - the first time he has performed in the DC area for several years.  Thank goodness we have wooed him back!; Geraldine Buckley ​(me!); Sheila Arnold Jones​ - fresh from being a New Voice Featured Teller at the National Storytelling Festival; Dr. Mike Lockett​ - straight off the plane from what is sure to be yet another highly acclaimed storytelling trip through Taiwan and China; and Anne Thomas​ - winner of the second Jonesborough Story Slam competition, and heard on The Moth and other storytelling podcasts.

There will be stories for children; stories for adults; true tales; folk tales; tall tales; tales with music; tales with singing; hilarious tales; thoughtful tales; life-changing stories.  As well as all that there will be Anne's one woman show; and a late night story slam with lucrative cash prizes. 

I am so excited!

Let me tell you how it came about.  Washington ArtWorks is a fabulously creative nonprofit organization that houses 56 visual artists, and the Washington School of Photography.  After I talked with them, they agreed that adding a storytelling component would be a perfect fit as it will harness a third type of image: pictures that are heard.  So they asked me to organize an annual festival; and an ongoing storytelling school that will come under my new company Story Speak.  Be still my beating heart!

I used to be an events director at the largest PR agency in London, England.  I am a storyteller and communicator who loves to perform, but who also genuinely loves to teach others. I am beyond delighted that these different streams of my life are flowing together in a new way.

There are dreams to have a regular storytelling show highlighting local storytellers as well as concerts and workshops with nationally known names.  There are dreams to give pro bono workshops for groups who are marginalized, but whose stories need to be heard; and to use stories to help prevent young people being incarcerated.  (My prison chaplain's hat is never far from my head.)  These are dreams for the future.  Hopefully the not too far distant future.

For the moment there are definite plans to have story workshops for beginners; a series of classes for those who want a deeper knowledge of storytelling including creating and polishing stories; and workshops aimed at harnessing the power of storytelling for nonprofits and businesses.  I am talking to several excellent teachers who are excited to be part of this endeavor.

Our first classes start this September.  I will be posting more information in the next few days.  But for now, bookmark November 13th and 14th; plan to be at the festival; and then rejoice with me!

Tuesday
Jan292013

Pooches and Prisons

It is strange how life and literature sometimes flow in parallel.

It is exactly three years since I left my job as the Protestant Chaplain at the Maryland Correctional Training Center (MCTC) the largest mens' prison in Maryland.

I am reliving those days in great detail as I revise and tweak my new storytelling show “Tea in The Slammer” which takes an in-depth look at my time behind the bars and how I discovered a new use for my tea-making skills.

This afternoon I took a break from the editing and picked up a poetry book that was part of a set that my niece had given me. It was the selected works of Oscar Wilde. Once again I was riveted by his “Ballad of Reading Gaol” that I hadn’t read for many years.  It is based on Wilde’s own two-year incarceration with hard labor, completed in the closing years of the Nineteenth Century. 

I meant to read something frothy but I was drawn to this, his final work. This time the words took on new meaning in the light of my own time behind the bars.

One strand of the poem is about the execution of a man who murdered his wife for her infidelity.  After finding him guilty, the judge gave him three weeks to live.

English Victorian prisons were notoriously harsh – a world away from their 21st Century American equivalent - but I was transported back to the men that I knew at MCTC with the words:

"I never saw a man who looked

  With such a wistful eye

Upon that little tent of blue

  That prisoners call the sky.

And at every drifting cloud that went

  With sails of silver by."

No matter what century, no one relishes freedom more than those who have lost it.

On the day of his execution, while still alive, the man in Wilde’s poem is read the rite of burial.  After the hanging he is interred naked but still in shackles.  It was that last detail that struck me as particularly punitive.

Shaking off the sadness surrounding the death of a man that happened close to a hundred and twenty years ago, I went for a long walk on the path behind my house that winds besides a brook.  An enthusiastic, handsome St. Bernard bounded past me followed by his young owner.

I long to have a dog, but it’s not the right season in my life and so I scratch the itch by volunteering at my local animal shelter, writing the dogs' bios for the organization’s website in the hope of the pooches finding their perfect forever home.  I am conscious of the irony of downsizing from incarcerated men to cooped-up canines – but one spin-off is that I’m more aware of dog breeds.  And this St. Bernard was a beauty!

I struck up a dog-oriented conversation with the young man who encouraged his clearly beloved seven-year-old pet to come over and greet me.  And then he told me that he had found out yesterday that the dog has cancer.  His whole body started to shake gently as he held back tears. 
“He has three weeks.  So ‘till then I’m just going to let him do whatever he wants.” 

And the two friends carried on up the trail.

I was saddened by the dogs impending demise but amazed by the parallel.

Three weeks to live.

It might mean nothing – this melding of life and literature, pooches and prisons – or it might mean that a story is coming knocking wanting to be told.

Just in case it’s the latter, I’m listening.

Listening hard.

 

Monday
Dec312012

Looking Back

Before the old year slips away to the strains of Auld Lang Syne and a burst of fireworks let me mull on the memories of the last few months.

This Summer I did much work creating and polishing stories for my new CD, “Devils on Horseback and Other Odd Journeys,” with it's tag line "Hilarious, True, Inadvertent Adventures,"which was recorded in two performances at The Frederick Cultural Arts Center in Frederick, Maryland.  (Available from the store section of this web site.  Click here.)

Of course besides the stories, a CD project comes with a myriad of decisions about art, design, packaging…  So I was thrilled when finally box upon box of the finished product were delivered by a lovely young UPS man with bright red hair.  He told me that he lives with his mother and has a Doberman Pinscher mix who loves English accents.  Apparently when he and his Mum are out of the house the dog listens to the audio books of the Harry Potter adventures – otherwise he gets too lonely. 

I am delighted to tell you that the very first copy of my new CD went to a literary loving dog so that he can learn English accent diversity!

I am also delighted to tell you that the dog has perfect manners.  I received this email from the puppy, whose name is Doszer.

“I asked my Mom to type this for me as paws and keyboards do not mix well.  I wanted to say thank you for the CD!  I love it!  I am not sure how Daddy talked you into giving a CD to a dog, but I greatly appreciate it! 

I get nervous when Mom and Dad go out. So it is nice having someone tell me stories.  Mom likes to listen to books on CD while she does stuff around the house and discovered that I enjoy them too.  Her story friends keep me company when she and Dad cannot be home with me.  Thank you for becoming my new friend!  …Oh and thank you for being nice to your UPS man.  You made his day and mine too!

Thank you again!

Puppy Kisses,

Doszer Ziliox"

Be still my beating heart!  I am thrilled to have such a polite, canine fan.  Woof!

In September I was invited back to tell at the Southern Ohio Festival in Chillicothe, Ohio – one of my favorite festivals.  Donald Davis, Carmen Deedy, Bil Lepp, Sheila Arnold, Octavia Sexton and Kevin Coleman were also on the lineup.  It was a glorious mix of tellers who melded together perfectly. The weekend was memorable for deep conversations, shared ideas, friendship and laugher.  And the stories were superb - the late summer Ohio air was alive with the magic of words.

I hadn’t met Carmen before and joined the long line of people who have fallen in love with her!  It was mutual.  We became instant friends!

I am so enjoying this storytelling journey - especially the fascinating, generous, big-hearted people I am meeting upon the way. 

In October I was thrilled to win the first Storytelling Slam competition at the 40th Anniversary of the National Storytelling Festival at Jonesborough, Tennessee.  The story was called “Hitchhiking” and it is a five minute extract from a longer story of the same name on my latest CD.

 Not long after my return I went to my brother’s house in Washington DC for a family celebration.  Damian, my brother, insisted I told the winning story.  When I finished he presented me with an award.  An eye!  (Perfect for the story.)  Apparently the saleslady told him it was soap – but he said that he was going to tell me it was a gobstopper (candy).  She said: ‘Surely you wouldn’t do that to your sister!”  He said: “Oh yes I would.”  And he did!  The rotter!

 Winning the slam had wonderful repercussions.   Liz Miller, librarian and storytelling impresario was in the audience, visiting from New Zealand.  She loved that story and the stories on my other two CD’s. 

The outcome? 

Liz invited me to tell stories, together with Storyteller and Musician Bill Harley (who has just been nominated for his third Grammy), at the Invercargill Arts Festival in New Zealand next May!  The ticket has already been bought and paid for thanks to a grant organized by Liz.  I have always wanted to visit New Zealand and I’m absolutely thrilled!  Other opportunities are popping up in that scenically-stunning nation and I will be telling and travelling for the whole month of May.  Hallelluia!

Lastly, I finally broke my prison fast.  I officially left the prison where I worked as Chaplain at the end of January 2010 but the last time I went in to a correctional facility was three years ago on the day before Christmas Eve. 

This Christmas Eve, exactly three years later, I went in to the Frederick County Detention Center to tell stories as part of the female inmate’s Christmas party.  I had the most wonderful time and I loved seeing all the girls laughing. I’ll be back.  The program director and the inmates want me to do a full storytelling concert – and I will be very happy to do so.

It has been a good year, and I have great excitement stirring in my spirit for all that lies ahead in the coming twelve months.

May it be a wonderful new season for everyone who is reading this post, full of grace, favor, wisdom, health, provision, love and abundant laughter. 

Go God!

 

Tuesday
Jun052012

Drunk Nuns and other Adventures

What a delicious  story-filled long weekend!

A few months ago friend and Storyteller Andy Offutt Irwin told me that he would be in town doing a house concert at Laura Hagmann’s house in Silver Spring, Maryland (one of my favourite storytelling venues) and a set with the two-time Grammy award winning musical duo Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer at the Washington Folk Festival. 

He asked if I would arrange a couple of events that we could do together to round out his stay. 

Some years ago I was an events director for Jackie Cooper PR - at the time the largest independent PR agency in London – and I was delighted to put my old skills to use.

I swung into action.

The result was two wonderfully fun evenings. 

On Thursday May 31st Andy and I did a storytelling workshop entitled “Humor and the Narrative Arc” for Speakeasy DC held at the Hamiltonian Art Gallery on trendy U street in Washington DC.  What a delightful quirky space!  That night it was packed with talented participants – all eager to learn- who ended up telling their own amazing stories.  The room reverberated with wild tales, excitement and laughter.  SpeakeasyDC’s executive director, Amy Saidman, wrote that she was really pleased with the result and declared the evening to be a success. Yea!

The second event was an anthology storytelling show “Drunk Nuns, Sober Spirits and other Storytelling Misadventures held on Saturday June 2nd at the Frederick Cultural Arts Center. 

The show got excellent pre-publicity from the Frederick News Post and the Gazette and we had a lovely, enthusiastic crowd including one woman, Meredith Miller, new to storytelling, who later wrote:

 “I absolutely LOVED the show tonight! It was amazing - captivating - hysterical - and tender. I think I experienced every range of emotion possible in those few hours.  I was so swept away with the canvas portrait of stories that were shared ... you literally *took* me there with you to those points in time. What an incredible, joyous ride. Thank you SO much for inviting me.

Cannot wait until the next time!”

Another person hooked on storytelling. 

Halleluiah!

 One of the delights in this storytelling journey is the people you meet along the way – and I had a wonderful time getting to know Cathy Fink over three days as we spend time together at the workshop, the excellent house concert the following day (where I met Marcy – albeit briefly -  for the first time) and at the Drunk Nuns show.  Cathy and Marcy are virtually neighbors and so I look forward to sharing more laughter with them in the days ahead.

On Sunday I performed at the 32nd annual Washington Folk Festival at Glen Echo Park on the Storytelling Stage.  My eccentric great aunt, princesses bruised by hidden peas and ferocious tigers eventually tamed, all lived - and were received with great enthusiasm by the audience!

I finished the day off with a carousel ride.  Built in 1921, the award winning Glen Echo Carousel is a work of art.  The galloping horses and jungle animals, the beautifully painted pastoral scenes and the Wurlitzer organ were a perfect backdrop to mull over the storytelling excitement of the previous few days.

The horse looked a little wild eyed by the time I disembarked - but I was ecstatic!