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.

Entries in Andy Offutt Irwin (6)


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. 


 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!


Catch Up

Where has the time gone to?

So may wonderful things have been happening over the last few months and I haven’t been recording them here – so before clear memories disappear like morning fog let me give a scanty review of some of the highlights since I last wrote.

The jewel in last year’s crown was being one of the six tellers from around the nation who were selected to perform on the Exchange place stage at the National Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee.  I was thrilled to participate with Storytellers, Adam Booth, Pippa White, Diane Edgecomb, Gwen Rainer, and Kirk Waller on that coveted stage and was delighted when Lauren LaRocca of The Frederick News Post wrote an excellent article as a result of the news.  Lauren LaRocca is now the Features Editor at the paper.  Yea! Congratulations Lauren!

While still in Jonesborough I really enjoyed doing a house concert with my friend, Speaker and Storyteller Bob Tryanski at the home of John and Joyce Johnson as a fund raiser for Ivory Park in South Africa – a project run by Bob and his wife Hannah.  The concert benefited two causes close to my heart, feeding children through actual food as well as literature. The event was on the front of the Greensville Sun the next morning written by a journalist called Kristen Buckles - it was easy to remember her name! 

 Then it was off to the other side of the country to perform at the Fredonia Opera House in Fredonia, NY – which was built in 1891.  I thoroughly enjoyed working with the Executive Director Rick Davis who said about me in a follow up letter “..I am hearing nothing but glowing reviews from patrons.  People not only found your tales funny, but enlightening as well… after all who else can offer such insight into life “in the slammer?”

It always amazes me how my years behind the razor wire have come in so useful after my “release!”

In November I had a wonderful time being one of the featured tellers at the Lower Brandywine Storytelling Festival headed up by the incredible Michael Wright.  The lineup included Bil Lepp, Andy Offutt Irwin, Bill Harley, Willie Claflin, and  Kim Weitkamp.  And it was a special joy to preach at the first morning service at the beautiful Lower Brandywine church the next day.  That festival and church hold a special place in my heart.

Adam Booth and I were bookends on the Exchange Place Stage - he went first I went last - and we were reunited - and kept that order - when we did a house concert together in January at Laura Hagmann's home in Silver Spring, Maryland - one of my favorite venues for storytelling. 

I am a huge fan of the Washington DC based true storytelling phenomenon SpeakeasyDC and In February I had great fun being part of the SpeakeasyDC “Sucker For Love” show directed by the enormously talented Stephanie Garibaldi and Meredith Maslich.  And I was doubly delighted that National Storyteller Michael Parent whose work I admire was in the audience on a trip away from his home in Maine to visit his DC Metro area based adult children.  He told me how much he liked my stories and that I was a storyteller “extraordinaire!”  What a kind man he is and so wonderfully generous with his praise – now I have to try and shrink my head back to its normal size!

I met him again, and many other fine tellers, when I was teaching a workshop and performing in the evening Olio at the LANES (League for Advancement of North Eastern Storytelling) Sharing the Fire Conference in Albany in March.  I was Facebook friends with many people there – but was meeting them in the flesh for the first time at the conference.  It is always an odd feeling to already know so much about people’s lives at the first real hello!

Spring brought a delightful honor.  My CD “Destination? Slammer!” was awarded a Storytelling World Gold award for best CD recording (category six in this link.) I felt like I had won an Oscar for best movie I was so thrilled!  The whipped cream and cherry on that already fabulous brownie was the invitation to write a 3000 word article on The Power of Story (focusing on my use of storytelling as a bridge within the prison system) which appeared in the April/May edition of the Storytelling Magazine.

Around the same time I travelled to Laurinburg, S. Carolina for the Southern Carolina Storytelling Festival.  Oh what a delight!  Southern hospitality at its finest mixed in with incredible stories.  Donald Davis, Gene Tagaban, Doug Elliott and Robert Kikuchi-Yngojo of Eth-noh-Tech were the fabulous feature tellers and Sheila Arnold and I were the Regional tellers – and what a fine teller my new friend Sheila is.  Following in the footseps of the late Jackie Torrence Sheila wooed and won the audience.  It really was a memorable weekend.

In April, together with Storyteller Anthony Burcher, I was a Regional Teller at a lovely festival - Storyteller Alan Hoal's Sounds of the Mountains Festival held at Camp Bethel in  Fincastle, Virginia.  National Public Radio station WVTF did a preview of the event - and they used my voice (extracted from my website) as the top and tail of the piece for their Evening Edition program.  Listeners had a British storytelling sandwich for supper that night!  As soon as I walked in the door at Camp Bethel I discovered that I had been selected to be a featured teller at next years festival.  I was thrilled!

May has brought the OOOPs Storytelling Festival (Ohio Order for the Preservation of Storytelling) in Mont Vernon Ohio featuring the grande dame of storytelling, Elizabeth Ellis,  where I was invited to debut my new workshop “Rocking the Flock with Story” which leans heavily on lessons I learned about telling stories behind the razor wire in a prison church setting – I was delighted that it got excellent reviews. 

Then it was on to perform stories for a ballroom filled with British born women and anglophiles at the Daughters of the British Empire (DEB) conference in Annapolis, Maryland.  Now that was a real thrill!  When I mentioned loving the author Enid Blyton as a child the room cheered!  She had clearly also been on all of their childhood reading lists!

Thank you to all the audiences, tellers and new friends I have met over the last few months.  It is because of you that I am having such a wonderful time along the storytelling road.

Abundant blessings to you all!



A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Festival

Last Thursday, at midnight, I inadvertently found myself on a mist-covered, winding back-road in Ohio and felt I was in the prelude to one of the ghost stories I knew I’d be hearing at a concert the following night.

Near the end of a six and a half hour journey from my home in Frederick, Maryland to Chillicothe - home of the Southern Ohio Storytelling  Festival - I had somehow managed to leave the main highway and was approaching the city by a narrow country road.  By day this would have been the scenic route, but now, in the witching hour, it was covered by a thick layer of mist that reduced visibility dramatically and had me gripping the steering wheel, nose almost against the windscreen.

 I am a storyteller - stories are always floating through my mind - and driving on that country road I was reminded of another dark and misty night in 2007.

I had just conducted my first wedding, held in the evening at a vineyard in a remote part of the Maryland countryside, and on leaving I had accidentally turned the wrong way. 

Not knowing the area, I quickly became lost on back roads where visibility was less than a couple of yards. 

Suddenly an enormous truck appeared out of the gloom behind me and got so close it almost touched my bumper. 

The road curved frequently.  It was too narrow to pull over and there was nowhere to pull off.  I was going 25 miles an hour.  The truck increased its speed.  I got up to 40.  The truck was right there behind me.  I moved up to 55, still only able to see a short distance in front of me. 

I was hurtling around corners.

The truck went faster. 

My hands were in a death-grip on the wheel.  My prayer ability was reduced to a repeated:

“Jesus!  Help!”

I felt I was inside Stephen Speilberg’s first feature film, Duel, made in 1971, in which a demonic monster truck chases a car and seems determined to kill him.

My speed hit 70 miles an hour.  I was going too fast to turn into entrances and the narrow side roads were past before I could swerve into them.

I was terrified.

Finally I saw an extra-large forecourt and veered in almost crying with relief as that huge truck let out a billow of smoke and went hurtling past me into the mist-filled night.

Now, almost four years later, in the darkness of an Ohio night, I started to wonder where the truck had come from. 

At the time I had been in the first months of my job as chaplain in the largest men’s prison in Maryland.  I was in the Correctional Academy, training to be a correctional officer – a requirement for all staff who would have daily contact with inmates.

Earlier that night I had accidentally been locked in the pitch dark training annex of the prison, by myself, for what seemed like an eternity.

I didn’t think I was going to make it to the wedding. 

When I was released by someone coming to practice night shooting I was upset and discombobulated.

Then there was the truck.

There is a lot of spiritual darkness surrounding a prison.  Many of the men come with their share of demons. They meet the ones already embedded in the place.

My mind started to fantasize.

Was the speeding juggernaut a second warning of the day to keep away from the prison?

Was it a ghost truck?

Was it sent by hell to frighten me?

I was beginning to scare myself!

I don’t like ghost stories. I was only going to a concert filled with them the following night because friends would be telling including Kim Weitkamp - who has just brought out a beautifully designed spooky CD called “Head Bone Rattles.”  But driving in the mist on the outskirts of Chillicothe, minutes past midnight last Friday morning, in conditions that were bad, but far better than in my "Duel" encounter, I realized that I had just re-lived my own terror tale.

Shaking off the gloom and frissons of fear that were trying to snag me, I sang Jesus praise songs all the way to the hotel and thought about the delightful storytelling weekend ahead.


I will always have a soft spot for the Southern Ohio Storytelling Festival. 

I performed there last year – my first storytelling festival – and it was a joy to be back seeing friends such as Peggy Riggin, who keeps all the artists on track, Bill McKell the director of the festival and his wonderful mother, Mirielle McKell. 

This year I was going as a listener, staying with my friend Storyteller Suzi Whaples who was on the lineup of tellers, together with Andy Offutt Irwin, Adam Booth, Kim Weitkamp, Bill Mckell, Kevin Coleman and Elizabeth Ellis.

They were all spectacular.

I was particularly pleased that Elizabeth Ellis – doyenne of storytelling and a Circle of Excellence Award winner - was a featured teller.

I had never heard her tell in person.

I was entranced. 

She wove a few myths and many personal stories into a world of enchantment. 

She made me think, laugh and cry.

She was generous with her time and the knowledge she had gleaned over a thirty-year storytelling career and I was thrilled to be included in a small unscheduled group that gathered after lunch one day where Elizabeth poured out wisdom mingled with earthy wit - sheer delight!

Following in the footsteps of the Jonesborough Festival, Southern Ohio gives out entry tickets that are swatches of quilt fabric. 

After a full day of listening and laughing on Friday I carefully tucked mine into a zippered pocket in my purse.  To my bewilderment I couldn’t find it the next day. 

The vibrant paisley swatch was camouflaged.

It was the exact match for the lining of my bag!

I settled in for another day of brilliant telling, happy that I had received a tiny hexagonal sign that I am exactly where I am meant to be on my storytelling journey.

Even on the occasions where the road seems dark and misty, I am enjoying the ride!

Thank you Lord!






Farewell 2010!

What an extraordinary storytelling year this has been!

(And yes I know I am repeating myself from my last post - but truth is worth saying twice!)

As I write this in the last few hours of 2010, I am amazed at how many doors have opened this year, how many new friends I have made and how many soul stirring as well as absolutely hilarious stories I have heard. 

But I have been lax of late. 

I haven’t mentioned two events that meant much to me and I don’t want the old year to die without shining a spotlight on them.

The first was participating in the Lower Brandywine Storytelling Festival at the Lower Brandywine Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Delaware on November 5th and 6th and the second was winning an award for this blog!

The Lower Brandywine festival was an absolute delight filled with an abundance of the best storytellers in the nation, including Willy Caflin, Milbre Burch, Bill Harley, Andy Offutt Irwin, Bil Lepp, Kim Weitkamp, Ed Stivender, Doug Elliot and Slash Coleman.  It was an honor to participate, and great fun to attend with my cousin, Vivienne Jones.

The festival was held in the sanctuary and the grounds of one of the oldest churches in the nation (founded on October 15, 1720.)  A tent with clear sides had been erected at the edge of the ancient graveyard and at night the light shone out and could be seen for miles.  National Storyteller Bil Lepp described the scene superbly when he said that the tent looked like a giant snow globe waiting for the hand of God to shake it!

It was a memorable weekend filled with laughter and wonder!

Then just a few days ago I got a chance to relive the whole event. 

Michael Wright, the director of the festival, sent me a copy of a letter that he had written to Susan O’Connor at the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, Tennessee.  

He talks about his festival and then mentions me, saying:

“What a wonderful woman.  I could listen to her tell stories all day!  She is hysterically funny, engaging, and really bonds with those in the audience.”

To say I was a delighted was a complete understatement!  I was absolutely thrilled!

What a wonderful compliment! 

Be still my beating heart!

Shrink back my fast-growing head!

Thank you Michael!


Secondly, I received an award for this blog.  It is a Masters Award for Storytelling.  What an unexpected honor.

And I am in very august company!  Many fine storytellers and brilliant blogs were listed. 

Oh happy day!


Let me end 2010 with an extract from a poem that I love.  Called At The Gate Of The Year it was written by Marie Louise Haskins (1876-1957) and it was quoted by King George Vl in his Christmas broadcast at the beginning of the Second World War. 

It is both comforting and encouraging.


I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year,

“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”

And he replied:

“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God.

That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”


Happy New Year everyone!  May 2011 be a wonderful one, filled with love, grace, health, success and laughter!



Remembering Chillicothe

Just before Thanksgiving I received a wonderful greeting from Mirielle McKell on Facebook wishing me joy and family delight during the upcoming festivities.

Mirielle is one of my many new storytelling blessings in this wonderful year that has been awash with stories.

She is the mother of Bill Mckell, the director of my first Storytelling Festival, the Southern Ohio Storytelling, Arts and Music Festival, held every year in Chillicothe the weekend after Labor Day.

After signing the contract in May to perform in Chillicothe September 9th -11th, I looked up the city on Mapquest and saw that it was fifteen and a half hours away. 

I’d need to get a flight.

Wonderfully organized Bill McKell sent a letter to the tellers saying that if we were flying, Columbus was the nearest airport, it was an hour away whereas the next closest was Cincinnati – two hours away.

The cheapest direct flight I could find was in to Cincinnati.  I booked my non-refundable ticket.

Then a friend phoned and asked if I was driving.  “No!”  I said.  “It is over fifteen hours away.”

“Never!” he said.

“It is!”  said I.

We both dove for our computers to get to Mapquest.

He was right.

I’d put in the wrong Chillicothe!  It turns out that there are five places called Chillicothe in the US.  The furthest away is in Texas and the closest is Ohio.  Clearly the Chillicothe I had originally looked up was in Indiana, which was indeed fifteen and a half hours away from Frederick, Maryland.  The Chillicothe in Ohio is just over six. 

Thank goodness my flight was landing near the festival!  I could have been in Texas!  Or Missouri! 

If I had known the correct distance I would have driven – but then I would have missed out on two delightful treats that happened on the way to and from the airport.

The first was meeting Bill’s sister, Nancy Mckell Gomez who picked me up from the airport. 

She has just published her first book – a sweet, inspirational story for children called Little Sylvia Seagull in which a seagull that is teased and bullied becomes a heroine when she leads her persecutors home through unexpected stormy weather.  For the whole two hours we talked publishing, books and shared our life stories.  It was instant connection – always a treat!

The meat in the sandwich was the festival itself.  Held under a tent in Yoctangee Park at the Pump House Art Gallery it was intimate, with an appreciative audience and a wonderful line up of tellers.  Knowing that it was my first storytelling festival, National Tellers Bil Lepp, Andy Offutt Irwin and Lyn Ford very graciously tucked me under their wise wings, showed me the ropes and poured out advice.  Together with fellow tellers Adele Brown and storyteller and musician Joseph Helfrich they wove powerful spells with words and music until the late summer air sizzled with creativity, inspiration and laughter.

And I was thrilled with Bill McKell’s statement about my performance:

“It was wonderful having Geraldine share her delightful tales at the Southern Ohio Storytelling Festival.  Her fascinating stories, British charm and animated wit had our audiences enthralled.  We eagerly look forward to her return.”

Is that sound I hear my head swelling?

On Sunday morning, on my way home, I was invited by Mirelle Mckell – Bill’s absolutely lovely mother - to visit her and her husband Tom's hundred and fifty year old home where she showed me their very own secret passage that has been built into the fabric of the house.  Be still my beating heart!  (One of the stories in my CD Destination?  Slammer! reveals my childhood love of secret passages…)

All the way to the airport I channeled Nancy Drew and pretended that I was tossing long titian hair,charging ahead in a blue sports car and reveling in another mystery solved!

Seeing Mirielle’s Thanksgiving greeting brought all the delicious memories back.

Happy Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas dear Mirelle – and to all the Mckells.

It is people like you who help make the storytelling world magical.

Thank you!