New book features work by men at Garrison treatment center
Sitting atop Serenity like Gulliver over Lilliput
Intricate tiny temples of quartz, mica, and shale
Surrounding well-worn footpaths
Moss covered slopes; leaves constantly falling.
It took treatment to bring those words out of Greg Gilligan.
He was forced into introspection when he entered, in September 2020, the three-month treatment program at St. Christopher’s Inn, run by the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement at Graymoor, their headquarters in Garrison.
Without cellphone and internet access, Gilligan said he “had to deal with me” in his effort to overcome alcoholism. Along with daily visits to the facility’s chapel, he found another tool for inner transformation: a relatively new creative writing program held on the weekends and led by an accountant-turned-psychologist.
Now, along with the men who have confronted their addictions and traumas, and unleashed their hopes through poems, essays, plays and drawings, St. Christopher’s Inn’s creative writing program has found itself transformed. In August, Nova Science Publishers released a book based on the program, Effective Use of Creative Writing in the Treatment of Addiction to Chemical Substances.
The 540-page book, filled with poems, drawings, essays and short plays written by more than 70 men at St. Christopher’s Inn, was edited by Eric Kreuter, an author and weekend counselor who brought the program to the facility in 2019 after years leading creative writing classes at state prisons.
Writing not only allows the men to explore their traumas, thoughts and emotions, but reading their work aloud in the group fosters self-confidence and cuts through the isolation that usually accompanies substance abuse, explained Kreuter, who is a board member for the National Association of Poetry Therapy and included some of his own poems in the book.
Kreuter believes the book will not just appeal to clinicians but also to recovering addicts, their families and academics. All proceeds benefit the nonprofit St. Christopher’s Inn.
“It’s all about giving them their sea legs back, so that when they leave, they’ve got a life to look forward to,” he said. “They don’t need substances to numb because they’re too excited about life.”
Evidence of my existence.
Like my shadow,
I am dark and empty.
Can I ever fill the void?
~Ryan F. McNamee
An accountant with a doctorate in clinical psychology, Kreuter first began leading creative writing groups at Bedford Correctional Facility, a state prison for women in Westchester County.
Contacting the facility after deciding to do something altruistic, Kreuter said he was invited to teach a class on “money addiction.” He introduced writing exercises to the eight-week program, beginning a yearslong teaching gig at Bedford and then the Taconic Correctional Facility, also in Westchester County.
Introduced to St. Christopher’s Inn when an accounting client wanted to donate property to the program, he proposed that he introduce creative writing to the residents. He supplies prompts to the men, who bring their writing to the following session. Sometimes, they will be asked to write about their dreams, said Kreuter. If someone is having writer’s block, he suggests they take a blank piece of paper outside and note their observations of Graymoor’s wooded, mountaintop campus.
A tall tree, an old soul,
born into silence of the forest.
Shelter for the ancients and their virtues.
Many past lives I’ve witnessed;
I am Earth’s statue.
“Getting these men with harsh lives to write about simple things like a bird, there’s nothing more beautiful than that,” said Kreuter.
Subjects range from the turmoil of addiction and the pain it inflicts on family members to the joys of being with spouses and children and pursuing sobriety. One man, whose writing Kreuter described as “dark,” told the group he wanted to leave and use again.
“Thirty days later he walked into the room and said: ‘I have an announcement. Because I’ve had this freedom to come into writing and announce the desire to leave and to use, is why I don’t leave and why I don’t use.’ ”
A bird sings a song of spring
The reborn leaves dance to its tune
Flowers grow high forever
Reaching for the sky
Yearning only to touch the sun
On the grass a young boy runs
Picking dandelions for his special one.
His mother, perhaps the girl next door
Above his head the song-birds soar
Diving, dipping with wind under wind
Forever singing this song of spring
Greg Gilligan considers himself transformed. He helped Kreuter compile the book and launched a creative writing group for St. Christopher’s alumni. He and Kreuter are planning a second book about long-term recovery.
“I don’t see it as creative writing; I see it as inspirational writing,” said Gilligan. “There are people in addiction who cannot express themselves standing up and saying, ‘I am here.’ ”
Memories of Montauk
The sound of cresting waves
and splashing in the nearby pool
Parents swapping stories
And low summer songs dancing through the air.
My eyes are closed now, but I can see it all,
While breathing in the entwined scents of Coppertone and charcoal-broiled burgers
Wafting by on the wind
As the warmth embraces me, envelops me.
Sometimes my eyes open a sliver to slight slits
To catch the sight of sunlight shimmering on surf
And the fluttering green flag on the lifeguard’s perch.
Here in this lounge chair,
A light breeze blows across my body.
I rest, and slip between perfect presence
And dreams of this moment.
I take it all in.
Familiar familial chatter and calls to mealtime swirl through the courtyard of the motel,
Yet with all these sounds around me, I am at peace
In a treasured space.
I don’t ever want to leave.
I will stay long past lunchtime, naptime, dinnertime
I won’t leave until the moon rises in the east, over my beloved Atlantic
As the last ray of the day fades behind me
With only the cacophony of churning surf and seagull calls as my companions
When the birds scavenge the seashore
as I wash the sand from my toes in the cool ocean.
I may head back home tonight
This tan will peel and fade
But Montauk Septembers will remain,
Forever foremost in my heart.
~John Xavier Bonfiglio