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 Storytelling (19)


Congratulations Connectivity Group!

The land of once-upon-a-time has surrounded me this extraordinary storytelling year!

Rediscovering many old childhood favorites, I have inhaled fairy tales and folk tales by the bookload as I climbed a steep story-world learning curve.  So it seemed perfectly natural to find that the theme of this year’s Frederick’s 72 Hour Film Fest was fairy tales and fables reinvented.

On September 30th at a costumed launch party, forty three teams of film makers were randomly given the names of a well known fairy story or fable together with a “poisoned apple challenge” such as having to include an overturned chair or a ticking clock in their movie or having 30 seconds shaved off an already tight production time.  From that moment the teams had 72 hours to make a five minute film – 6 minutes for professional entries -  and all the creations were shown at Frederick’s Weinburg theater the following weekend.

I am delighted to tell you that the company that created my website, recorded my CD and designed my storytelling publicity material – Connectivity Group – won the best of show for the second year running – together with a slew of other awards.

Connectivity Group LLC (whose core team is brothers John and Alan Saunders and their father Bruce Saunders) were given the challenge of creating a film around the theme of Tom Thumb – be careful what you wish for – and their poisoned apple challenge was losing time.  Their entry, Wish, complete with an original music score, oozes with the creativity and professionalism that sets the company apart, and it also manages to have the dark, sinister edge of original fables.  See it here.

Congratulations to the Saunders and Connectivity Group! 

Although you were up against some excellent film makers and other spectacular entries your victory was very well deserved!

As we would say in England – home of so many fairy stories and fables…

Wish was wicked!


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.






Blue Sky Puppet Theatre

Last week I stepped into a living fairytale.

Or that’s what it felt like when I went to a house in University Park, Maryland that resembled an illustration for a children’s story.

In my mind this is how the tale started.

"Once upon a time there was a cottage on the edge of a big city that was made out of decorated gingerbread.  It belonged to a puppet maker and his wife.  Ten years before, the puppet maker discovered he was a wonderful painter and his vibrant artwork was now displayed throughout the house. 

People were amazed when they saw the paintings because they were so beautiful!

The puppet maker had a mobile puppet theater and he went round to schools and libraries, churches and country clubs putting on shows.  His theater became so successful that he hired other people and formed teams so that he could reach more children.  He loved his job because he really enjoyed making children happy. 

In his spare time the puppet maker created a giant xylophone made out of recycled materials that sat in his garden so that the neighborhood kids could come and make music. He and his wife loved to hear the children laughing and creating new songs right outside their kitchen window…."

 Do you see what I mean?  It sounds like the beginning of fairytale – but it happens to be true.

I met Michael Cotter, puppet maker and owner of Blue Sky Puppet Theater and his wife Judith at SpeakeasyDC, the storytelling club that I love in Washington DC. 

He very kindly offered to pass on his knowledge of the business side of an arts venture both to me and to author and fellow storyteller Julie Kraut , who is also a SpeakeasyDC regular.

I had seen one of Michael’s productions on a hot July day under a tent at the back of Strathmore Mansion.  It was the “Barker of Seville”, and I had been entranced by the creativity of the show and the enchantment on the face of the children in the audience. 

So I was delighted to take up his offer of an intense learning experience at his University Park home. Over the almost three hour seminar Michael poured out the lessons and secrets he had gleaned from twenty five years of running his puppet business that has been successful enough to provide a comfortable living for his family and to put three children through college.

In a nutshell the information mirrored the story of the rich Greek farmer who on his death bed passed on the secret of his great success to his sons.  “Every day you must walk over the land because the owner’s eyes must see everything.” 

For a puppet master, and a storyteller, that translates to - balance the creative side with the business side.  If one is to thrive they both must thrive.

By the end of the session I was enormously impressed with the professionalism, precision and creativity that Michael uses in running his puppet empire.  All the shows are primarily excellent entertainment as well as being a first class educational tool. 

And  they are fun!

The company travels regularly to a two hour circumference around University Park (which is near Washington DC) and goes further on request.  So if you need a fabulous puppet show, contact Blue Sky Puppet Theater.

 I left with facts, figures and strategies swirling around my head and encouragement warming my heart. 

What a gift!

Thank you Michael for so generously passing on your knowledge!

I was proud of myself when leaving the house for two reasons.

  • I successfully resisted the urge to bang on the outdoor xylophone.
  • I didn’t break off a gingerbread shingle and nibble on it all the way back to Frederick.

 I’m saving both those pleasures for my next visit!






The Power Of Three

In storytelling things go in threes it seems - three blind mice: three wishes: three bears. So I shouldn’t have been surprised that I was strongly impacted by three things last week.


On Thursday and Friday I went to the two-day Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit where a yearly changing roster of innovative, exceptional business and church leaders are invited to share their story and insights at the Willow Creek Church campus in South Barrington, Illinois.  The event is telecast to hundreds of host sites throughout America and the world.

I attended a satellite center in the Baltimore suburbs.

The speakers included luminaries such as:

  • Jack Welch, former Chairman and CEO of General Electric:
  • Blake Mycoskie, Founder of TOMS Shoes, Inc, a company famous for giving a new pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair sold:
  • Jeff Manion, Senior Pastor of Ada Bible Church in Ada, Michigan which for years hovered around fifty members but has recently exploded to over 6,000 attendees.

Although the other speakers were excellent, it is Jeff Manion’s words that are still reverberating within me.

He talked about finding God in the aftermath of crisis - where life as you knew it has changed whether because of unemployment, foreclosure, illness, family tragedy, heartbreak – we can all fill in our own blanks – and the future has not yet solidified.  

He calls this place “the land between” – where life is not as it once was, where the future is in question.

In a perfectly pitched presentation filled with the wisdom gained by experiencing his own extended dark night of the soul, Manion laid out the proposition that it is our response to “the land between” that will decide whether our journey through the desert will result in deep, lasting growth or prove as destructive as acid on plastic.

The pivot point is trust.

Will we choose to trust the One who has been proven trustworthy?

 It could have been trite, but it wasn’t.

It was gut-touching, thought provoking stuff presented with sensitivity and humor.

 I left clutching Manion’s recently published book “The Land Between: Finding God in Difficult Transitions,” hoping it would live up to his lecture.


Getting home from the two day juggernaut of rich ideas and concepts I was delighted to find a book I’d ordered had arrived. 

Ripping open the packaging I immediately started inhaling “The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness” by Storyteller Joel ben Izzy reading until dawn approached and continuing the moment I could pry open my eyes.

This small, powerful work, a true tale, is a cross between Mitch Albom’sTuesdays with Morrie,” and an anthology of the finest stories from around the world.

From the first page the reader travels close alongside Storyteller ben Izzy, going from a dark place of unwanted transition after losing his voice, through a series of meetings  with his eccentric but wise old teacher, to a realization that the desert time was an unlikely gift that brings transformation as great as any seen in the ancient folklore that weaves in and out of the book.


My head was still awash with a world of beggars and kings, monks and tigers, hope lost and restored when – on Saturday evening - I went to a concert.  The Scott Day Band were playing at Redeemer International Family Church, temporarily turned into a dinner (well a dessert) theater complete with draped tables and dramatic candles.

The Scott Day Band’s music is soaked in prayer and an otherness that transports listeners to a place of healing and peace, a place where fears are calmed and equilibrium restored. 

Their message is - trust.  

We are deeply loved. 

In times of darkness God will send moments of illuminating, strengthening grace.

The only way out of the swamp is to take His hand and let Him lead us on the journey from despair, through the wilderness, to a place of praise-filled fulfillment.

It was a moving concert – in part because it provided the perfect vehicle to sift through the lessons that had been surrounding me that week. 

Different mediums, same message.

Three times within three days.

It feels like I’m inhabiting a folk tale and the Great Storyteller is speaking.

And believe me, I’m listening as closely as I know how.



Nicolo The Jester

This evening, at the Germantown, Maryland library, I experienced another side of Storyteller Nick Newlin as he brought to life his alter-ego Nicolo the Jester. 

And what fun he was!

The room was heaving with dozens of tiny toddlers, their older siblings and watchful adults and Nicolo kept them all entranced with his juggling, his audience participation stories, his vivid costume, his poetry and his delightful joie de vivre. 

Although I don’t normally like someone telling me what to do from the stage (a stubborn reaction from too many years of preacher’s saying “turn to your neighbor and tell them…”) I found myself joining in all the silly songs, and every “repeat after me” – and what’s more thoroughly enjoyed doing so! 

Perhaps the difference was that Nicolo didn’t take himself too seriously – and that he didn’t talk down to his predominantly pint-sized audience. 

For one glorious hour we were all equal citizens of Never Never land where anything was possible – little girls became queens, seven year old boys became princes and all volunteers were awarded temporary custody of glorious hats denoting nobility in the kingdom and were instantly able to juggle!

At the end of the evening Nick knelt down and became the Pied Piper as children swarmed him. 

They asked him questions.  They posed for pictures taken with him by doting adults.  He gave each one focused attention and shook their hand.   

The evening was a delight! 

If you need a juggler or a jester for anything – especially a children’s event – choose Nicolo.

The children left with magic in their eyes.

And so did this adult.