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 Bil Lepp (5)


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!



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!



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!



Jonesborough! The National Storytelling Festival

This has been a season of firsts! 

In the past months I have experienced many storytelling firsts – but the most thrilling of the lineup was going to the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough Tennessee.  

This festival began in 1973 when 60 people sat on hay bales to hear Appalachian tales told from the back of a hay wagon parked beside the town courthouse. 

It was so successful it became a yearly event - and grew!

Now about 10,000 people pour into Jonesborough for three days over the first weekend of October every year to hear the best storytellers from America and around the globe tell riveting tales under huge tents that are dotted throughout this lovely town – the oldest in Tennessee.

 I first heard about the festival ten years ago. 

After completing a week long residential storytelling course in England I went to the Greenbelt Arts Festival with my friend, storyteller and cinematographer Shan Stevens. We met some tellers  from the storytelling graduate program at East Tennessee State University at Jonesborough who told us about the National Festival. 

I started salivating – I wanted to go. 

But it has taken a decade for that sown seed to sprout.

This year was harvest time – not only was I going but I knew several of the featured storytellers – which made everything even more exciting – if that were possible! 

Friends Kim Weitkamp and Suzi Whaples were featured “New Voices” – and they both did superbly. 

Each received well-deserved standing ovations at the end of their main one hour sets. I thought my heart would burst with pride on their behalf!

Friends Bil Lepp and Andy Offut Irwin also were telling – and they were as wonderful as usual. 

In his main one hour set, Bil took a break from his normal tall tales style – he is a Champion Liar – a five time winner of the West Virginia Liar's Contest – as well as an ordained Methodist Minister.  He told a true World War ll story, "The GOYA’s, 551st Infantry Parachute Division," in the voice of Suzi Whaples' father whom he had interviewed some years before. 

Bil was utterly believable and so, in spirit, we followed the 18 year old West Virginia serviceman through boot camp, invasion of France, Battle of the Bulge and post war occupation in a tale that was humorous and harrowing and made history live. 

It was an amazing, moving, tour de force. 

Then there were more glorious, glorious words and images from superb storytellers such as 92 year old Kathryn Windham, Donald Davis, Carmen Deedy, Kevin Kling, Eth-Noh-Tech and a host of others.  On Saturday there was a fabulous midnight cabaret with Bill Harley and a group of his musician friends.  (All were new to me except for Donald Davis whom I had seen perform in Williamsburg two weeks previously.  I snagged a seat on the front row.  I was close enough to see his nose hairs!  Glory!)

The only difficulty was deciding what to see because going to hear one teller meant missing someone else.  Decisions!  Decisions!  I was in the tents first thing in the morning and had to be outed with a crowbar as the last word of the night was greeted by applause.  Oh such delicious hours!

Jonesborough is a word lover's paradise - and I am in love with words and stories!

On late Sunday afternoon, after it was all over, a friend of a friend, Sarah Keplinger Hughes, who I had met once before ten years ago, whisked me away for a delicious steak dinner (thank you Sarah!)  I ended the evening in Storyteller Connie Gill’s magnificent saltwater pool and freshwater Jacuzzi, reliving  my recent firsts and reminiscing about the weekend.

Of all the jewel like moments strung together to make a glorious storytelling necklace – one particular event stands out.

The day before the festival started I had gone to get my patch of material that serves as ticket.  When the volunteer with the kind eyes heard it was my first Jonesborough festival he said:

“Welcome Home!” 

Then he got out his wallet, took out three dollars and bought me a lanyard with a clear pouch hanging from it so that I could wear my entry patch with ease. 

It was an unforgettable gesture!

I felt I had indeed come home. 

I had found my tribe.

And when that happens, you know you’ll be back.