Judith Prest is a poet, photographer, mixed media artist, and creativity coach. Her poems have been published in Mad Poets Review, Chronogram, Akros Review, The Muse: An International Journal of Poetry, Earth’s Daughters, Up the River, Upstream, Writers Resist, and in six anthologies. Prest spent twenty-six years as a school social worker and prevention trainer before retiring in 2009. She currently works part-time facilitating recovery writing and expressive art groups with adults in day treatment for addiction. She lives in Duanesburg, New York with her husband and three cats.
Anyone who has survived more than a decade or two on this planet has stories to tell. Often, however, people who struggle with addiction have not had the opportunity to sit down and write their stories, not even for themselves. For the clients I have worked with in recovery, any available energy they have is directed at surviving challenging life circumstances. Some have been incarcerated, and when the prison doors open, they land in a halfway house or in day treatment for addiction. Then suddenly, there is time and room to reflect on experiences, to tell the stories that need to be told.
I wrote poetry through my college years, then I got derailed by life. I started writing again about twenty years ago and have had my work published in literary journals and anthologies. Soon after my return to writing, I began to incorporate poetry and expressive arts into my social work practice. I now work as a creativity coach and workshop leader, along with my part-time work at New Choices Recovery Center in Schenectady, New York.
I believe that writing, particularly poetry, is a powerful tool for healing and growth. Creative writing can be a great recovery strategy. Getting our experiences, questions, and feelings onto the page, allows us to see what’s there, and work with it.
At New Choices, I have been leading recovery writing groups for over ten years. When we can, we like to bring in someone new who can offer a fresh approach. This is where John Fox, director of the Institute for Poetic Medicine (IPM) in Palo Alto, California comes in. John travels widely around the world and across the United States to bring “poetic medicine” to hospitals, retreat centers, community programs and, in this case, to New Choices Recovery Center.
John facilitates two ninety-minute group sessions with New Choices clients. Using poetry, he invites participants to access their creative side and respond with their own poems. This program adds to the poetry and creative writing already experienced at New Choices. We have had poetry open mic events, published four books of writing by our clients (two books were published with help from IPM), and some clients participate regularly in recovery writing groups.
This special poetic medicine program allows all clients at or in the program to experience one of John’s poetry immersion workshops. Even clients who do not read or write have been able to create poetry in John’s sessions, with me as their scribe. He has a way of helping poetry “sneak up” on people. Often, folks who never imagined writing anything will write a poem and find the courage to read it out loud to the group.
John and I are dedicated to bringing the healing power of poetry to folks who have struggled with other aspects of life. We want to continue to help people experience the elation of creating and sharing poetry. Thank you to Poets & Writers for making it possible for John to work his “poetic medicine magic” at New Choices again this summer!
Support for the Readings & Workshops Program in New York is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, with additional support from the Friends of Poets & Writers.Photo: Judith Prest (Credit: Leiah Bowden).