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 Southern Ohio Storytelling Festival (2)


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!






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!