Inside and outside the Prison yard

By Kevin D. Cordi

June 24, 2014

(This is based on conversations that I had with the men in the yard and my experience.imgres-5)

Razor wire served not as an invitation but as a deterrent.

Left holding a single key and license was no means a greeting card welcoming

Hearing the strong clang of the iron doors meant no return without permission

More than permission, keys, gates, and orders to open.

For this day I could not get out until 6:00 PM. I stayed until 7, but I had that choice.

The time moved quickly

Inmates shared their time and stories, talked serving time and time served.

Incarcerated but not immobile.

Many wrote words, painting pictures, created music, but not always when they chose, but instead when they were provided “free time.”

But free they were not, they wanted home when asked and

some escaped in their minds.

But still, there was a count, they had to stay, 2,700 counted more than once every day

Counted by the hour, lingering for their number to be called.

I heard the count, I was even part of the count.

I did not have a number I simply witnessed the names being shouted.

At 6:00 I went home and when that door opened

I thought how I might still be trapped.


We were marched like always but today was different.

The outsiders were coming in today. We were told to behave and reminded the privledge that was today.

It was a break in the schedule, how I loved the break.

We would even have Christmas Dinner early, p and J sandwich

The new ones would have no idea how to spread the jelly without a knife

I knew, I have done it for 18 years.

The iron doors will be knew to them. They will see the razor wire.

They don’t bother me anymore.   What I want is news of what is out there

so I can stand in their recall and perhaps even get closer to my home

in my mind.

After all, this is the only way I leave. I am serving life here. Funny, that term, life.

As though they know when it will end, but more like where it will end.

In a cell, a cold hard cell. I have pictures and still hold on to the letter that I received

seven years ago, but I will never see my mother again.

My dad died while I was inside. I attended the funeral, for an hour.

I never said sorry. I never said sorry.

They count us again. Although it is a special day, we are always counting, even on


I can’t escape. When they leave, I will still be here.

It is getting harder to escape in my mind. My view of the yard is not comforting but

commanding. I want to go home but home is gone and I can’t count on that anymore.


Kevin went to prison on June 22,  2014, an observation

Written June 23, 2014   experienced June 22, 2014


I was busy planning my wife’s surprise birthday party.  While in the middle of the planning, I had an email saying we have been invited to prison on June 22, her birthday.   I agreed to attend.

Tedx Marion Correctional Event July 22, 2014

Tedx Marion Correctional Event July 22, 2014



We traveled to TEDxMarion Prison in Ohio.  This is the correctional facility that three years ago served to host  the first ever  Ted Talk to occur in a prison.  However, at least three other prisons have followed their lead.  This institution holds over 2, 700 male inmates and upon entering, we were welcomed with such fanfare you would have thought it was a family reunion.     Piper Kerman, author Orange was the New Black, attended the first one and spoke at that time. She was there again but unless you knew her or her work, she did not speak.  This day was not about her.  (I am sure she recognized this.)  This day was about stories we don’t get to hear.



In the small journal we were provided it stated:


In 9-15-2013: Piper Kerman challenged everyone with the call to action:

If you have a story from behind prison walls, I want you to share it…when people know the real stories of real people, then they will recognize that our incarceration mania is a real problem.   And they will get to the same spot that I was in…they will say, we gotta get outta this place.


The theme of the day was “refolding the box.”  We were provided hexagram flexagrams which displayed many ways to fold a box. (See image)




However, this can also be the way we see the box we are in.  It could be a physical cell and a metaphorical box that we feel trapped.  The inmates and other guest speakers reminds us we need re-fold this box, we need to see it a new way and perhaps this new vision would provide a new recognition on how to be more free.


This day I heard some powerful stories.

This is a powerful message about the program.

This is a powerful message about the program.


However, the timbre of the words spoken still are grabbing me and making me pause and reflect on not only my life, but also the life of these men.   I heard compelling stories about crimes, dreams, regret, questions, and so much more.   There were gripping stories about time served but also the value of how time was served.  Poets, musicians, pundits, and prolific philosophers explained that they were in physical bars but not barred from the mind; this was the vehicle they used to escape.  This manifested in their words, images, and conversations.


At a time that I can reflect on this more, I may share these powerful stories but for now I want to share the advice that some of the men who were incarcerated   gave me.  I informed them that I teach teachers who will soon be in classrooms and what would they have me teach students who are preparing to teach kids.



Dean told a story.  He was serving an extended sentence.  He shared that every day there is an inmate who takes an hour-long shower.  He said his fellow inmates are pissed at this.   He said in truth, he too was mad.  Then, he reflected and stepped back and realized  he does not know this person.   He does not know this man’s past and  what he was washing off.  He had no idea what was so stuck to him that he needed to erase with water.  He then explained that teachers should not be quick to judge, but instead take time to realize that all children (and adults)  are suffering in some way.


As a teacher, I should work to understand that.  Don’t always look at the crime, seek the person.  Perhaps, we can help them if we know who they are.


Justin was a former inmate who returned because frankly he missed his friends.  We were asked in private circles by an inmate named Robbie a “gathering” question.  A gathering question is a question   that would bring us together.  “Where would you go if you could go anywhere?”  Most of the inmates said “home,” one in particular spoke of relaxing on a couch and said many people spend too much time objectifying women, but he just wanted to relax with his wife.  Justin looked at me and said, “Have a conversation.” He said it is easy to judge, but have a conversation.  Talk with real people to decide real things.  He said it is too easy to make the conversation of someone if they are not present, but instead, create a dialogue to find out together next steps. What is meant by this is we speak on behalf of people as we know them, but we don’t.  Instead, we simply know a little bit about the label or  some possibly stereotypical  behavior of this group, instead of relying this to misinform, be informed by talking with live people about real ideas and events.


One of the volunteer instructors who worked with the inmates reminded me that you can’t teach, you can simply provide an opportunity and the teaching comes from within the person.  Justin and many in the circle shared that there should always be a no bullshit notice.   If someone is not true, they can tell.   He said sometimes people come in who are not invested in their work or them, he said he and the others know when this occurs.  Be sincere and come because you care.


Unlike other Ted Talks, instead of hearing the speakers and then leaving, we “gathered” with them, ate with them, and had frank and real conversations.  I learned how to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without a knife.   We talked, we engaged in real honest  talk throughout our time.  We were encouraged to ask any questions and in turn heard many stories.


There were no leaders in our groups.  We instead shared in our circles. It was explained that being in a circle heals.   There is so much more to share, more stories to tell, but most of all for now, until I have reflected more, I will share one central ideas that I was able to take home from this experience.  It is   the intensity that comes with visibility.   Many days I have passed by the prison.   Today I saw beyond those razor wire fences, on this day I stopped and spent a day not with a label but instead men who lived in a prison but also were playwrights, poets, dreamers, and most of all, people.


It is the intensity of being visible.  You have to work hard to see what is really there.  This visibility has helped me see some of the injustices of the prison system but also what happens when someone is seen.

Real conversation yields real results

Real conversation yields real results


This is not to dismiss the atrocities of why they are there, but instead as we tighten our vision, we work hard to see the whole picture, and as Justin said “have a conversation.”


My wife and I and our friends Bill and Sue Sabo of Columbus Unscripted ( ) are planning to come in the future to provide a place for stories and improvisation.  This will help tighten my vision more.


As we left, the Warden spoke once but what he said I remember.  He reminded and in some case informed us that 72% of the inmates at Marion  will return to our communities.  He said share this statistic.  The Warden shared we need to help this transfer and provide resources that will equip them to return.  He said one out of every six people have a felony on his record.  We need to help people listen less to the media fallacy of the idea of “criminal,” and instead remember, we need to prepare and help former prisoners become citizens of our communities.



As I was preparing to leave, I met a man named Kevin who  for the last 18 years was producing musical Christian—based plays.  I told him that we could explore helping him develop story and play-making skills.   We talked about ways people can share their stories using dramatic pedagogy.  He replied he would be most honored if we could.  I saw him.  The need was clear.  I hope to address it soon.  I know it will help my eyes grow.


We all need Oxygen


By Gharam Alyafie.

(Gharam wanted us to visually see Qatar and in order for this to happen, she has generously provided pictures. These images  share the visual and amazing encounter that I experienced  with her and other teens as we used story to create meaning.)


When I was twelve years old my teacher said that there would be a traditional Qatari Dance show on the 18th of December in order to celebrate Qatari National Day. She wanted me to sing a Qatari song by myself and then dance with my friends in another show.    She asked for volunteers.   I volunteered.  I like the Qatari dance. Although I was nervous, I wanted to try to sing in front of the audience. I was sure that it would be an unforgettable experience.   We practiced over and over again. The teacher told us that she wants us to be creative and to practice without her help. This was a big challenge for us. We worked hard, but were we ready? We met in the physical education class at the break time and practiced. I was singing all the time trying not to forget the lyrics of the song.


During the last day of practice, the teacher observed us. We were anxious as she sat and watched us. We were relieved when she said it was a performance. When she said that, we knew we did well.



She informed our parents and collected all the teachers after the show to share that she did not assist, we did it by ourselves.



However, it was now time for the THE SHOW. Everyone was excited and although the teacher enjoyed it, but again had we prepared enough for the show?  Every day I opened my wardrobe only to see my dress and shoes. In the quiet of my room, I wore them and danced in the night.

It was time to tell my mother about the event. I went back to my home. I told my mother. My heart jumped when I handed her the invitation. When I gave it to her, she looked at me and said that she can’t come.


My heart jumped again. Before I was thinking of how proud my mother would be, and how she would react.

She would hug me and share that she is proud of me. But she didn’t. She didn’t even smile.  When my face began to become red, I could feel the need to cry .I said, ” Why can’t you come? It’s an important day for me.”



She said I can’t leave your sister alone at home and I can’t bring her with me because she would make noise. My sister was 5 years old. I did have to admit she was noisy and super active. My mother said she didn’t want to bring her because she knows that she would not behave.


Still I begged to her to see me. I said ” Mom please come with me, I worked hard to make you proud of me. Please come, please. “ I asked her to leave my sister with the neighbor’s kids.


I was mad and disappointed.   I said, “You don’t love me, you just love my sisters. When they have any show or play you always go but now that it is my time, you don’t want to go with me.” My mother left the room, and I almost did not see the tears welling in her eyes.


The next day I was about to cry again, because my friends informed me that their mothers came. The chair marked for my mother would remain empty.   My friends chided me. Leena said to me, ” Do you know why your mother isn’t coming because she knows that you are a foolish dancer. “ These statements encouraged laughter from the rest of my “friends.” I wiped a tear from my eye. When my friend Rawyah heard these words, she said to me ” I don’t care about them, you have a great mother. Don’t you remember when you more than tired but sick and your mother examined you and how fast she took you to the hospital? I’m sure that she wanted to come but.. ”    This was all true, but still the chair remained empty.


When the teacher said, “It is your turn to sing.” When I started singing, my voice wasn’t beautiful, instead it whimpered. I believe it is because my face was more concerned with trying not to cry than having my mouth sing. The Qatari song begins with We “anek solofooly alnas , ya egd mn Eldahab wel mas , ya gesat hob makktooba , Qatar ya taj fooq alras .”   It was beautiful; it was performed and sang in the language found in Qatar. When I finished, I cried for 30 minutes. The chair was empty.


Dr. Kevin Cordi teaching in Qatar


However, the show must go on. I was expected to dance. I didn’t want to dance, but I had to at least move my feet. I danced. I tried to forget my favorite audience was not there by moving my feet, as I danced, I tried to drift away to anywhere but here.


When the show finished, I heard an incredible sound. It was the loudest clapping I had ever heard. When I looked in front of the chair stood my mother and she was smiling. Her clapping was so loud it drowned out everyone else.  My mother stood and made thunder with her hands for me.


I will never forget that moment.  I would like to say that my mother love helps me breathe. I know this because as she notes, her children are the oxygen for her life.  I breathe better because of her.


About the Author:


I’m Gharam Alyafie . I’m Yemeni , but I live in Qatar . I enjoy reading books. I like to read stories and novels. I like telling and writing stories.  I’m a beginner storyteller and I wish to be a great storyteller.


Interview with the author Gharam Alyafie.


Why do you want to be a Great Storyteller? Telling the stories is the best way to keep the cultures connected.

Why is this small time in your life worth sharing? Stories provide advice and values.

What does your mother think of your goal of being a storyteller?

She is supporting me. Her stories help me to be a great storyteller.

What is your next project?

I’m working to publish Mr. Kevin’s idea and contribute to the StoryBox ( ) I’m helping my friends to have their own story box .




I humbly accept the “Man of the Year” Award from Columbus State Community College.   me and the mail




On May 1, 2014 I was selected for the MAN Initiative Bell Award´ from Columbus State Community College.  This is an award presented “to a central Ohio community member who demonstrates qualities embodied by the award’s  namesake,” Napoleon Bell, a dedicated community resident with a long history of service.

Qualities of the Bell Award include:

Napoleon Bell II (his son) and me.  It was honor to meet this charitable man.

Napoleon Bell II (his son) and me. It was honor to meet this charitable man.

  • Demonstration of involvement in the character-building and leadership develop of men.

  • A support for access and equity to education.

  • An inclusive appreciation for the diversity in thought and difference in others.

  • A desire to uplift and unite men in all life stages and from all walks of life.

As much as I blush at being awarded the “Man of the Year” award, as I mentioned at the ceremony I accepted this on behalf of my father who passed away three weeks ago.  The award committee asked me to respond to three questions and I was glad to share how I believe listening to the value of stories for over 28 years has richly benefit my understand of my role not only as a man, but as a compassionate listener.


What is your definition of a man?


According to Dr. Victor E Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning and a survivor of the Holocaust, “Man is originally characterized by his ‘search for meaning’ rather than his ‘search for himself.’”   He continues, “The more he forgets himself—giving himself to a cause or another person—the more human he is.  The more he is immersed and absorbed in something or someone other than himself the more he really becomes himself.”

Considering these wise words, a man is someone who dedicates himself to serve others.  A man leads with his heart to deeply listen to others and from that deep listening acts.  A man is led by compassion for all gender, race, and ability.  He knows and understands this simple thing—we contribute to each other.  We all have a story to tell and when we are permitted to tell it, it is a powerful sound.

However, as the French philosopher Voltaire declares, “Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.”  A man is inquisitive not to become all knowing, but to always be in a state of searching for ways to help improve upon the good will of who we are.  One way is to share our stories.  It is through our stories we understand that our differences provide joy in our rich individuality.  It is in our stories that we discover our own narrative is connected to so many others.



How do you exhibit these characteristics?

I am a curious storyteller.  However, first I am a deep listener.  I believe this helps me tell stories well or at least with the authenticity that they have been given to me.  Because of my deep listening skills, I have been privileged to hear and often share stories from migrant students who toiled the land and at the same time fought to do well in school.  Celia’s story—crossing the border at age 14—would not have been written or told if she did not trust me to tell it.  “Bluewater” of the San Juan Pueblos took me in for three days sharing stories of the Tewa tribe because as she informed me it was important to share stories forward.  Pat Mendoza, a two-time Vietnam Vet, shared countless tales of the war and how hard it was to reveal his own story.   Richard, who works the fields in Bakersfield, California, retold his time in prison as a time he wanted to forget, but also a time that taught him he needed to teach children to not make the mistakes he did.

Each story adds to a tapestry of understanding.  As a university professor and a storytelling teacher, I also hear my students’ stories.  Melanie shared how she volunteers her time to help a student with a rare disease while working to maintain her grades and taking care of her two children.  Trent completed a digital film honoring his grandparents who thanked me for sharing how to tell that story.  Here at Columbus State where I was honored to share how stories are integral to leadership and see how dedicated students work not just for a conference, but to put leadership in their lives on a daily basis.

There is a Croatian saying “you can’t hurt someone once you know their story”.  By providing a space for stories to be shared, students, faculty, and everyone from the person who prepares your meal to those who sweep this floor become visible.  We need to remember our stories remind us we are alive, we are important, we are valued, and yes, we are loved.

What experiences have you had – positive or negative – that contributed to your development as a man?




My father, who passed away three weeks ago, was a compassionate listener and a blessed storyteller.  They say when an elder dies, we lose a library.   However, I will say he is not lost as long as I am able to share his stories.  When I think of people who influenced me I must say although he worked at Goodyear for often 12 hour days and raised six children with the help of  my mother, my father provided space `to share stories with me and to listen to mine.  He started me on the path of being a good listener.

I struggled as a youth.  We were not rich.  My Dad was on disability most of his life.  We were poor.  However, like many students here, I wanted to learn more.  I began not to listen to the story of poverty, but the story of possibility.  Even though no one in our family attended college, I listened to a story of promise.  Not on my own, but my father and mother helped me move to earn a doctorate in storytelling and story making from OSU.

However, this began at the base of the diplidated couch when my father and mother would regale us with stories of West Virginia.  I knew only then that I loved stories, but how was I to know that I would be bestowed with being a story keeper for the last 28 years?

As I stated before, a man listens and shares his work out of compassion.  In my work as a storyteller and educator I have had rich rewards.  I have told stories with children whose parents had experienced AIDS and will never forget their smiles as they danced in fairytale land.  For 11 years, I coached high school storytelling troupes and traveled around the country performing with teenagers.  For two years, I served as the first “Academic Storyteller in Residence” at OSU where I used story to address equity and diversity for the Multicultural Center.  At ODU, I have students who dive in deep with me as we see that folktales, myth and fairytales are not remote to their lives.



However, I will leave you with a story of my recent expedition in the Middle East where I worked with 25 teenagers from Qatar and 25 students from various places in America.  I was responsible for teaching them using story to help share their culture and even create a two-hour Umisya performance in Arabic (I don’t speak Arabic—but that is a story for another day.)

In this short time, we spoke this language and more.  We spoke the language of story, whether we were spending the night in the desert or creating StoryBoxes, we reached beyond this language and found a new one.  During our performance, a Hawaiian teen blew a conch shell to greet our day, we shared a story in English, Arabic, and French, and we laughed as various impressions of the Batman’s Joker were shared, and songs were sung.  When the last word was done, we traded even more.  This is the power of story.

As a man, I work hard to remember that I am one man but when my voice is joined in concert with other men (and women) we make a powerful sound.  That sound might help change who we are and how we treat each other.

My wife and my father and mother in law joined me in the honor

My wife and my father and mother in law joined me in
the honor


To find out more about this award go to

Kevin Cordi, Ph.D. serves as an Assistant Professor at Ohio Dominican University.  At the university he teaches, among other classes, Applied Storytelling, Children’s Literature and “Uncovering folktales, fairytales, and ghost stories.”  For over seven years he has been a Co-Director for the Columbus Area Writing Project at The Ohio State University.   For over 28 years he has been, according to the National Storytelling Network, on a crusade to share the educational value in sharing stories.  You can find out more at



(the internal monologue of story)


Kevin D. Cordi (June 1998)

story brown image story-word-metal-type-22740863

Once upon a time, no that is not a good beginning.

Onec when there was no time, nope sounds too original (Could something be too original?)

No, let’s try,

Once, naw too plain, ok ok ok, how about “In a galaxy far far away”  Nope been used.

Ok,  let’s try it again from the start.

In a day when the animals could talk and people would listen, sounds ok, but does it say what I want it to say?

What do I want it to say?  For that matter, what is it?

In the beginning there was story…and God saw that it was good and told his neighbor about it…


Ok Ok Ok

I got it,

Krik! Krak!

No too regional, I want to talk to everyone.

How about…

A long  time ago, wait, this could be today or yesterday or even tomorrow.

When times does not seem to matter.

Wait ! Time does matter, what is a story without a sense of place?

What is place without time?


How do I really tell the life of a story, perhaps , it cannot be done.

Perhaps my tale can’t be told, no that can’t be so, it must be told, it is

a tale worth telling.

Everyone should know my beginning.

but do I have a beginning, , maybe I just began.

How can I tell my story?

Maybe, just maybe, I began with the first breath of life,

maybe I am life.

Oops that it is too deep, maybe life and story go hand and hand.

Maybe story began with the first idea,

maybe just maybe,

story is the first idea.

I don’t know to explain this.


Story, it is a quandary.  One that is not answerable, but felt.

Wow!  Maybe that is it, story is more felt than explained.

Story comes from somewhere different than the head, perhaps

it starts in the heart.


It is the first tear wrapped in words


It is a lie disguised as a dream


It is a comfort from a storm


It is a question not asked, a thought not remembered,

a gift not sought.

Yes, that is it.

I am a gift, a gift of wonder and awe

A gift that changes depending on who holds me, cradles me, savors me,

taste me, believes in me, and most importantly, passes me on.


That is what I am, that is my life, no wonder I can’t explain it,

I am like a river that stretches for miles and miles.

Beneath my water I cover and uncover treasure.

Depending on what boat or hook, you used to snare me, convince me,

sometimes a forgotten wonder,

sometimes just a map,

I change when you think you have me in your hand and in truth, I am

holding you and someone else is holding me.


It is a circle

Of three:



and  me.


That is what I am

My life is a gift

that begins and ends and begins again.

You seek me out and sometimes I find you,

but it never ends, only begins.

From one to another,

one to another

and back again.

That is who I am.


*This is a prose/poem that I wrote while attending a class at Northwestern under the direction of the skillful expertise of Rives Collins.  He created an environment that made me want to express how a story feels.  I share it with you now.

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The Maze of storytelling

By Rama Idrees

I’ve always wanted my voice to be heard and my stories to be told. One of the lessons that I’ve learned from life needed to be taught. I was looking for an opportunity in life to share great stories with people from different ages and nationalities.

However, when I thought of storytelling it is like a maze. I was not sure how to enter and once there, I was not sure of my next direction. Without help, I could become confused.

I didn’t have the confidence to look for workshops or centers that may teach you the way of being a ‘’Great Storyteller’’, until that day My teacher told me about the ‘’ABER: What’s your story trip,’’ and recommended that I shoot a video for Qatar Foundation International & Global Nomads so I can possible earn the chance to be selected in that great program.   I still remember the day I recorded the video.  It was all about telling my story of what I did to be involved to join in my school’s book club.


I was over the moon when I heard that I was accepted in the program. I was to learn what it takes to possibly be a “Great Storyteller.”   The days went along working on my story-box.  The story box is basically small box (Could be shoe box size or smaller) that contains few items, each one of them reminds you of a great story that happened to you.  (see

We also started a visual video exchange with students from the United States.   This was our first method to meet the students using Google Hangouts video calls, It was also a useful way to share some of the stories we had.

The 7th of March was a celebrated day in my life.    I was so jumpy because this was the first meeting with the U.S students and chaperones. The time flew away quickly, but I can’t forget the words that Mr. Kevin Cordi told us ‘’ Always rule with an iron fist, listen with a warm heart, and drink from the Great White mug this side only.’’ That’s exactly what  Mr. Kevin told us at the first workshop we had, it was a great story of a king , his son , his grandson. The father gave this advice to his son before he died.   If you just followed that quote, although it is couched in  a folktale, I realized it had deep meaning and understanding the meaning of it will improve my life.


I got the chance to see many different places in Qatar such as (Souq Waqef , Katara, and The Islamic museum of art ). Although I have seen them before and I’ve been to them before because I live here, I never really understood the story behind each place. I saw the places in different ways.   I saw them in the way that the U.S students did.

I am reminded of Lewis Carrol’s words in Alice’s Adventure in wonderland and through the looking-gladd, “No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time.”  How was I to know the adventure could be in my own back yard of Qatar.


Each one of us have been into many adventures before, and I believe that everything happens for a reason, perhaps someone asked you to explain what happened to you during a journey or and to share an adventure of somewhere you have been, surely initially it was hard for you to explain, but now imagine instead of recalling the events, sharing them as a story. Stories are the best way to tell an adventure.  Simply explaining the event takes a  long time, tell the story and people will listen. With stories, detail  the main points that you want to tell and a great  story has been told.

  Nevertheless, I thought of how comforting it is to go to so many places and try to listen to their story with a warm heart.

I realized it takes an iron clad determination to travel to unknown places.

I knew that a white mug can lead to a great story. Basically any other small item can lead you to a great story and therefore become a “Great Storyteller.”  All is required is to take a deep breath, look at it and believe that a great story will be told.

Each one of us is made out of a story.


“It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.”

–           Patrick Rothfuss, The name of the Wind


Don’t be afraid of anyone, go forth and venture into that ‘’Storytelling Maze,’’ fight your fears, spread your voice all over the world .  As “ABER reminds us, tell us your story’’.

About the Author/Teller


I’m Rama, Jordanian But I live in Qatar.  I attend Am Joiner high school, I am all about having fun.  I read books whenever I get a chance.   You can consider me a beginner storyteller and but with each day, I am a little closer and one day will be a “Great Storyteller.”

(We indeed believe you will be Rama. Thanks for your powerful telling.  Keep it up, we are listening.)


A Jack Journey by Tasha Allen

by Kevin Cordi on March 29, 2013

in Fairytales folktales


In my uncovering folktales class, students are reading Jack Tales.  I have asked them  to create their own Jack story.  I hope you enjoy them.  This is by Tasha Allen.

Each Jack tale is an adventure!

Each Jack tale is an adventure!

There once was a young boy named Jack who was stuck on a farm with his grumpy mother and father. He always dreamed of going into the big city and getting away from his miserable parents. Until he was old enough though, he was stuck at the farm plowing and gardening for his father. As soon as he turned sixteen he began begging his parents to let him go. He promised that he would bring them back something every time he returned. The father saw this as a way to get something out of his naïve young son, so he let him go. The young boy was so excited to get away he set out early the next morning. He was walking along the dirt road, but along the way met a young girl. Her name was Jackette and he fell in love immediately. He spent the entire day with her before he realized he had to head back home. Until he realized he did not have anything for his parents. He was stumped but knew he could not go home without something. Jackette helped and said, “Here take them these”, and handed him a bouquet of freshly picked flowers, so he did. His mother loved them and his father saw it as sufficient, after all he had not specified what types of gifts to bring back. His parents never asked how his trip went and once again left him neglected and alone, so he used this time to think about Jackette. The next day he set out again. He vowed to make it to the city but could not get past Jackette again. This time they talked about their past and told each other stories. He enjoyed his time, but once again had to make the journey home. He did not have a gift, so Juliette gave him a book to give his parents. He made his journey back home and gave his father the gift. His father was less than pleased with the gift after all what would he need a book for. He was a farmer he did not have the time to waste on a book. Jack was once again left with his thoughts that always steered back to Jackette. The next day Jack set out again in hopes of maybe making it to the city. Once again he made it to Jackette. Today was a beautiful day and they decided to catch butterflies. He decided he would take one back on the way home. His father was distraught his son had let him down once again and brought him nothing that he could actually use. He asked his son, “Son what were you thinking, these gifts have no value to me!” Jack smiled for these gifts meant more than he would ever understand, so he explained. “Father those gifts have value. The flowers were for the affection you never showed me, the book was for the brilliance you failed to make important, and the butterfly was for honesty, gentleness, and tenderness. All of these are things I wish we could have shared as father and son.” With that, Jack turned and walked down the path back to the only happiness he had really found, Jackette.


Some additional observations that Tasha found out about Jack:


Each Jack tale stretches a little.

Each Jack tale stretches a little.

Five things I learned about the history of the Jack Tale

  1.        That the name has taken many forms and many meanings in English and Scots, coming to mean a man in general (“man-jack,” “jack-of-all-trades”), a worker (lumberjack, Jack Tar), a useful tool (jackknife, hydraulic jack), and a fool (jackanapes, jackass). I found all of the different forms very interesting
  2.        The fact that the Jack’s tradition goes back to the medieval times, and was written down in the fifteenth century is interesting. I never would have imagined that something like tales would stick around for that long.
  3.       It was surprising to me that in older Jack Tales there were fart jokes. Since most such tales have been cleaned up for publication I find this fascinating since that is not something we encounter in our tales nowadays.
  4.       The fact that Jack Tales were included Jack as both scatological and sexual is interesting. I always thought of Jack Tales as something for kids and have these qualities are not something I would incorporate with kids, and also not something I saw in the Jack Tales I read.
  5.      I definitely liked the idea of incorporating psychology into the idea of Jack Tales. The quote below is an important part of Freud’s theory and the development of children. I find it so interesting that these stories can be compared to psychology because I never thought about them like that. I like this take on stories and hope to try and see more stories like this.
    1. a.       “Various psychoanalytical interpretations of “Jack and the Beanstalk” (e.g. Bettelheim 1976) have suggested that the beanstalk is a phallic image and the tale is essentially about sexual differentiation from one’s parents. The giant is an evil father-figure who has destroyed and replaced Jack’s true father—a typical Oedipal fantasy. The giant’s wife is a fantasy aspect of Jack’s mother, which explains why she helps him to escape her evil husband. In the end, Jack conquers the evil aspects of his father, and in so doing transforms his mother from a woman who must reject his magic by throwing out the beans, into one who can partake of the gifts he brings back. How does Jack reintegrate his family? By destroying his father’s phallus—or, at least, by destroying its hold over him.

a. Reading the other Jack Tales helped me add in the idea of three scenes and adding in a meaningful part of the story. I liked the idea of keeping the idea of three because it seemed to help the story flow. I also liked having an overall meaning of the story because it made the ending more powerful and moving.

b. One thing I learned from reading Jack Tales was that having a form to follow makes it easier for the story to flow. It helped the overall form of the story as well as made it a lot easier to write.

c. I made my Jack tale stand out by using important morals and values and using symbols to signify their importance. By adding in the symbols it signified how important a father and son relationship is especially for the simple things. I think adding in the symbols makes the story more meaningful for young children as well as for families.

Tasha Allen

About Tasha Allen

I am currently attending Ohio Dominican University, double majoring in Early Childhood Education and Intervention Specialist while also minoring in Psychology. Stories have always been a very important part of my life. I hope to continue to use stories throughout my career as well as in my personal life!



I had my students in my “Uncovering fairy/folk/ghost stories class” create “fairy tales with a twist.” This one is by the talented Holly Lash. I hope you enjoy it. Feel free to comment and I will make sure that she sees it.

How did this assignment help you (or not) value fairy tales ?
This assignments made me see how hard it is to write a fairytale while sticking to the original tale. Your twist can’t be too out-there and has to make sense within the world already established. In “The Little Mermaid,” mermaids are an established race and you have to honor that. I couldn’t take the tale and place it in a desert with no water around for miles. I had to have the prince at least mentioned as that was the catalyst for everything else. For my twist, the mermaid being vengeful, I had to make it make sense within the story. I also had to give the sea witch then a reason to be angry and keep her role in the story as she was a prime character in the original tale.

What can you say about the role of fairytales as we consider what they say about how we live (or die?) 
I think fairytales are a way to explore an universal truth. For example, falling in love. Even if one hasn’t been in love, we can all relate to the feeling. In “The Little Mermaid” love is used as a cautionary tale. The princess sacrifices everything to be with a man she knows little about and, when he ends up falling for another, it shines a harsh light on reality. While we may think we are the heroes in our stories, we also have to accept that there are other stories in the world going on simultaneously. Happily ever afters don’t always come true and this fairytale says something about that.
Are fairytales still relevant today?

I think they are. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, a movie that just came out, did fairly well at the box office as well as other fairytale retellings. Fairytales are fairly easy to retell since everyone’s heard of them. Even young adult books are understanding that.
The Lunar Chronicles are a series of books written by Marissa Meyers that are based on fairytales. The first book, Cinder, is based on Cinderella with a twist that Cinderella is a cyborg in futuristic China. The elements of the tale are still there with Cinder losing her actual foot instead of her shoe on the palace steps. Scarlet, the sequel, introduces Little Red Riding Hood as a girl hunting down the gang that took her grandmother. Both of these books made it on the New York Times Bestseller’s List so obviously there’s an audience for this.

Holly Lash would like to say that she has a long list of accomplishments that involve saving the world and excelling in all educational fields, but she can’t because she’s a hermit too busy weaving stories together in her head to pay much attention to the outside world. When she isn’t plotting characters’ death or torturing them in any shape or form she sees fit, she likes to relax with a good book and her cat curled up on her lap. She currently lives in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. Insanity is her first of hopefully many novels. Both Insanity and Haunted, its sequel, are available for purchase through Amazon.


Holly Lash

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 I have the honor of being included in the Online Storytelling Festival. I will be sharing a story about my journey of being an Applachian. It is entitled “Searing for my Appalachia: a modern Jack Tale.” I hope you can join us in this worthwhile festival. It is a world-wide conversation about diversity using stories. What better place would you want to be?
Join us for the first ever JustStories Online Storytelling Festival August 1, 2 & 3 – a free Facebook event. Every hour from 8 am to midnight (CDT) a new video will post on the JustStories Facebook Page (—stories that can help heal our racial and ethnic divides. Over 70 humorous, heartwarming and thought provoking stories by 43 professional story artists! You can comment, ask questions and share your stories, too. Storytelling + Facebook = a worldwide FUN and RESPECTFUL conversation that celebrates our differences and all that connects us.

Please share this invitation with all your friends so they, too, can have a front row seat to the JustStories Online Festival right in the comfort of their homes! Anyone can view the Festival at any time at, but with a Facebook user name and password you can comment, ask questions, and share your stories, too. (You don’t have to fill out a full profile and you can cancel the account after the Festival.)

Full schedule and story descriptions at:

Organizer Sue  O’Halloran also noted:

Often you hear leaders declare “It’s time to have a national conversation on race”. But how do we do that without causing more division and hard feelings?

One of the best ways to reflect on difficult issues is through the use of shared stories. Stories can be entertaining, engaging and emotionally touching. When you hear other people’s stories you realize how unique each person and each group is as well as all we have in common. When we’re able to walk in each other’s shoes, even for a few minutes, the stranger becomes a friend.

For the last nine years, the JustStories Storytelling Festival has been a live storytelling event in the Chicago area, a co-production of Angels Studio, a communications ministry of The Society of the Divine Word and O’Halloran Diversity Productions. But this year for its 10th anniversary the festival is going to the web in hopes of reaching an even bigger audience with stories that can heal our racial and ethnic divides. Think of it – on the internet there are no geographic boundaries or time limitations. This storytelling festival about inclusivity can now include everyone!


Time to Share: Coaching and Caring
By: Kevin Cordi

Dr. Kevin Cordi, Story Mediator, my term for “coaching” see more at

*This is an article that I wrote a while ago however, I thought it was still important to share.  Unfortunately we lost storyteller Chuck Larkin but I find that we are still following some of his insight.  My own coaching style has changed, but the caring continues.  My new coaching is called “Permission 2 Play” and this is for stories that are not ready, but you are ready to play with their development.  I  See more at

A German proverb states, “If you have no arrows in your quiver, do not go with archers.” However, often storytellers feel they don’t have time to re-charge or reload before proceeding to a booking. I have met countless storytellers who feel alone in their art. They tell me they have been telling for such and such years with no guidance except themselves. Even though I marvel at the work they have done, I wonder how much the work would be improved if they had the guidance of a listener or coach for their stories. I guess sometimes artists can be like the man in the folktale who once boasted about his ax chopping skills, but as he grew older, his ability diminished. He dismissed the reason for his lack of ability due to his age, until a friend showed him that he hadn’t sharpened his ax for as long as he had it. As soon as the ax was sharp, so were his skills.

Sometimes storytellers are amazed when they discover not only are their storytelling guilds near them but storytellers who will take time to listen to their work.

However as of late other storytellers are coaching more and more storytellers. They are learning what I heard from tellers like Jay O’Callahan and Doug Lipman and Jane Yolen have echoed for years, it is essential to have an audience for your stories. In order to see improvement, coaching is vital to the development of the teller.

Storytellers are keeping their axes sharp by involving themselves in coaching sessions. Not only are their coaching sessions at the National Storytelling Conference, but there are wonderful storytelling coaches like Marni Gillard and Doug Lipman who are spearheading “Coaching Coaches” workshops, an experience not to be missed, along with other programs sprouting up all over the country. I want to tell you about a national first that occurred in Leesville Louisiana. Reverend Neil and Mary Early realized that along with storytellers needing coaching so did teachers in Louisiana. With the support of a grant from the Rapides Foundation and the Louisiana Division of the Arts along with his local guild, he was able to bring 10 storytellers from across the country to not only help guild members, but educators as well. I was fortunate to be one of these storytellers. For two days we were catered to and well cared for as we concentrated our skills on our task, coaching.

The Story Coaches came from everywhere. From California, along with myself, Debra Olsan Tollar joined us, from Texas Mel Davenport and “Doc” Moore, from Arkansas Jerre Roberts, from Ohio, Jim Flanagan, from West Virgina, “Granny Sue” Holstein, and from Pennsylvania, Beth Philips Brown and from Georgia, Chuck Larkin and from Louisiana, Diane De Las Casas.

Not only was this event novel because of the coaches from across the country, a fine company to be in I would like to add, but because we all represented varying backgrounds along with the participants or “coachees.” Some of the participants were experienced tellers and some were trying storytelling for the first time. Story Coach Beth Phillips Brown best sums up the experience. She stated that with her coaching group there was a glow from the teller. “It was the same kind of glow I’ve seen on the faces of brand-new parents. I loved being there as a kind of storyteller midwife. I kept thinking of how a woman in labor has a coach and there we were, helping birth stories, tellers and styles in 10 different rooms and that the group was a welcoming committee for all! That was exciting!”

As storytellers we have a vital role to birth stories and other storytellers into our community. That is how the tales continue to be told. As Tolar points out, “Coaching is such an intimate experience we all become vulnerable.”

But is this vulnerability not good for us as tellers? When we truly listen to each other including our problem areas, when true listening is established, are we not destined to improve? I once heard a Storyteller state, “I tell stories, but I listen to far more than I tell. That is what makes me a good teller.” Isn’t it about time that we establish more coaching workshops or gatherings like the one in Leesville?

In this type of environment, coaching moments are priceless. Like the one that occurred when Mel Davenport served as coach, “One of my least experienced tellers told of nearly being run over by a train. You could have heard a pin drop while she was telling, and the others were all physically leaning toward her with rapt attention.”

Chuck Larkin suggests that a coaching weekend like this will last long after it is over.

“It is another way of introducing skills and knowledge from each coaches into the local community of storytellers. The new knowledge and skills of the few from each coach will pass on to many storytellers in the community as the local storytellers interact. This will over time increase the quality of storytelling.”

Unfortunately, the connotation of the word “coaching” can emit images of a bad football coach who yelled at you every time a play was wrong, a speech coach who berated your performance, or in general, an unknown and sometimes scary element. This applied here, Dianne de Las Casas stated “My participants told me that they didn’t know coaching was ‘going to be like this.’ They thought that their stories were going to be torn apart by the coach and didn’t expect the session to have the level of group community and thoughtful coaching that it had.”

As Storytellers we need to continue to build that community and more trust in story coaching will follow. As Casas suggests this method could be a model “this one event could branch out, much in the same way Tellabration has “branched out.” However, Brown, cautions us to be weary of any model. There should always be room for individual growth as well.

“I think this model can be used very successfully yet I have concerns that it would become some kind of dogma. As long as anything that is done well and is intended to be a “model” is good and valuable, there is also the danger that it will become written in stone as the only way. While I think workshops, conferences and intensives are valuable and that community is important, I also feel the solitary work that one does in preparing and other parts is very valuable.”

That is why it is essential that as storytellers we find balance between our shared time with other tellers and our personal reflection/telling time. Yes this is difficult to established, however, they are essential for the growth of the teller. As Granny Sue points out,

“The experience also caused, for me, a stronger commitment of what I do, a better understanding of the power of storytelling, and awe, actually of what it is we do. What an amazing art this is, that it can reach out and bring people together in their minds to one place where all are experiencing the same story in uniquely individual interpretations.”

Neil and Mary Early set a tone for me at this workshop, one of a community effort to help storytellers and coaches. I would encourage others to experiment and continue their coaching, it is invaluable. However, better yet if you are going to build a community-coaching workshop, here are a few key points to remember when building your workshop. This is from feedback and Neil Early himself.

1. Treat Your Storytellers As Honored Guests Care for their needs. He states too often at conferences the workshop presenters are treated as second class citizens. The treatment is Aren’t you glad we are allowing you to present a workshop here? He states this mentality damages the conference from the onset.

2. Be in Constant Contact before, during, and after the workshop with all involved and never fail to say Thank You.

3. Seek Funding to Help Offset (or even fray) cost for Coaches and Participants. If there has to be a cost, keep it low. Your turnout will be better.

4. Arrange informal “Getting to Know You” Gatherings. This helps offset “stage fright” or storytelling apprehension.

5. Establish “Debriefing” times where Story Coaches and others can share an oral as well as written evaluation of the work.

6. Privacy, Trust, and Respect are the Tenets of a Good Workshop.

A Coach is more than someone that tells you that you got the plays right, a coach is someone who helps to remind you when your axe becomes dull or you need to find new ground. As we seek to build our own stories, let us not forget to take time to listen to others. Then we can truly say our art is flourishing!

***Permission to quote and talk of coaching sessions was given for this article. Confidentially is a major concern in coaching.