Transforming “The Other” Through Story

by Geraldine Buckley, STF Workshop Presenter

Last year I stumbled into a storytelling opportunity that brought me great satisfaction.  I was asked to lead workshops, first in Maryland and then in Mississippi, to teach public defenders how to best tell their clients’ stories.

I had spent five years volunteering and then working as the Protestant chaplain at the the largest men’s prison in Maryland.  These public defenders were representing my people.  This thrilled my storytelling chaplain’s heart.  For their part the lawyers were surprised that a British-born, convent-educated tale weaver would have knowledge of, and a genuine empathy for their clientele.

This was a good start. They were ready to listen.

I structured the workshop around three premises and then told stories from my prison days to illustrate each point.  I am listing these points here in the hope they might be useful to other tellers.  Especially when telling the stories of those who may seem “other” to the audience.

  1. Be considerate of your audience. Join them where they are in their journey before taking them where you want them to be.  The general public has a deep seated fear of “the criminal element.” Start by recognizing the fear that the audience has towards the people you are describing (teenagers, immigrants, refugees, inner-city dwellers, fourth graders…) Recognize that fear, and then, through your story, take them to a higher place.

The first time I went into the prison I was petrified, nauseous.  By the end of the night I was hooked.  When I tell the story, listeners identify with the fear, later with the transformation.

  1. Build bridges of understanding.

Take an audience to places that they will never go without your words. Paint word pictures that are so vivid that the unfamiliar becomes the familiar.

  1. Allow your audience to “see” the individuals that make up “the other”. Tell their stories in a way that shows our common humanity, our shared dreams and goals.  Humans of New York ( does this superbly.

The lawyers eagerly grasped the points.  One woman in her late twenties quietly sobbed through the last part of the workshop.  She had realized on a deep level that everyone craves to be ‘seen” including her clients, and that it was up to her to make that happen for them.

So it is with us storytellers.  Our words are the conduit to enable the “other” to be embraced by our audiences.  This is age old, transformational work.  A work that is smiled on by all that is good and Divine.

Want to learn techniques for reaching out to new populations.  Take Geraldine’s workshop,

Creating Bridges: How to Bring a Stranger In, (Saturday, March 25 from 10:30 – noon) at Sharing the Fire 2017. Visit the STF Conference Details page to register for the conference.

Want to share your own own experiences on this topic? Leave a comment.

Geraldine BuckleyFor five years Geraldine was involved in the prison system in Maryland, first as a volunteer in both women’s and men’s prisons, and then as the state appointed Protestant chaplain at the largest men’s prison in Maryland.  She has also done workshops in a Patuxent, a maximum security correctional mental health prison, and at Rimutaka, the largest men’s prison in New Zealand.  She is an ordained Protestant minister with an MA in Communications – Television, Film, and Christian Ministry.  Geraldine is now a professional storyteller presenting storytelling programs and workshops throughout the country.  She has been a professional communicator for the last thirty years working in several nations.

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