NYWC Tell Your Story Campaign: Rolinda Ramos on Serendipity

This July, eight NYWC workshop leaders will share stories about the powerful and transformational workshops they facilitate and participate in each week to raise awareness and much needed revenue to support NYWC’s ongoing programs.

We’ll be posting these stories throughout the month  and NYWC’s campaign page. Read their stories, follow the campaign, and support NYWC by making a donation and following the NYWC Tell Your Story Campaign.

This piece is from  Rolinda Ramos, who leads a creative writing workshop at Serendipty II, an alternative to incarceration program housing former prisoners re-entering society. Additionally, she is a not-for-profit professional with over 10 years of experience managing supportive housing and developing programs, a proud single mom, Brooklynite,  and lover of the arts.

I learned about NY Writers Coalition (NYWC) several years ago while managing a residence for a vulnerable population of women in downtown Brooklyn. I was intrigued at the thought of having someone facilitate creative writing workshops at my site and decided to form a partnership. I discovered that writing offered the women a healthy outlet for grief and served as a canvas for their dreams, prayers and thoughts. I was taken aback by every piece that was shared with me and remember thinking that one day, I’d like to be part of this magical practice of creative writing. I expressed my interest and was invited to participate in the NYWC workshop leader training. I’m so glad I did.

It’s been three years since I started facilitating writing workshops for the NYWC. I facilitate workshops for an alternative-to-incarceration residential program primarily for women involved in the criminal justice system. Most of the women are non-violent offenders and suffer a range of social and economic disadvantages. In fact, most have been victims of serious crimes such as domestic violence, sexual abuse, and rape.

The benefits of providing this population with an outlet for creative expression are far greater than anything one would normally associate with a traditional writing class. During my workshops I’ve had the privilege of hearing amazing poetry and heartfelt stories that reflect pain, resilience, and self-realization, not to mention pure talent.

Initially, when first inviting consumers to participate in my workshops they tend to hesitate and express concerns about grammar. I immediately put them at ease by telling them not to worry about spelling or grammar; “just put your thoughts on paper,” I tell them. I focus on creating a relaxed environment and reassure them that we are all writers. I then give them a prompt, we write quietly and those who choose to share their work with the group. Sometimes we laugh, sometimes we cry, we always give positive feedback. Each session is unique and always moving.

This process allows for the women to form strong bonds and gain a level of respect and admiration for each other. I was especially moved one day when one of the group members shared with me that she reads her poetry to her bunk mate at night before they go to sleep. Another member mailed her writing pieces to her daughter with whom she had not seen in over seven years. Her daughter responded with praise and begged her mother to continue writing.

As a leader, participant, or listener, the experience is life changing and I hope you can support NY Writers Coalition as they continue realizing their mission of providing free creative writing workshops throughout New York City for groups that have been historically deprived of voice in our society.

Support the NYWC Tell Your Story Campaign and help NYWC continue to provide free, unique, and powerful creative writing workshops to those who need them most.