Parts of Our Tree

We are a living entity made of parts and will continue to grow!

Jimmy Santiago Baca
​​Jimmy Santiago Baca was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Raised by his grandmother and later sent to an orphanage, he became a runaway by age 13. It was after Baca was sentenced to five years in a maximum security prison that he made literacy his focus and learned to read and write. He continually uses his gift of writing and the power of words to help others. His many honors include the Pushcart Prize, the American Book Award, the International Hispanic Heritage Award and the prestigious International Award.
We are a living entity made of parts and will continue to grow!

​​Denise VanBriggle
​​Denise VanBriggle, literacy professional, teacher-consultant with the National Writing Project, and JourneyDance™ Facilitator, spends most days following her combined passions as she explores the power of the expressive arts to act as change agents, perspective shifters, and resilience builders in her own life and the lives of others. She currently serves as an official prison visitor and Co-convener of the Dauphin County Chapter of the Pennsylvania Prison Society and owns Cityscape Consulting, devoted to designing curriculum and programming to meet the unique needs of her clients. /

Kym Sheehan
​​Kym Sheehan is a secondary literacy specialist for a Florida school district, as well as a teacher-consultant with Tampa Bay Area Writing Project, an affiliate of the National Writing Project. She is also an independent literacy consultant at the local and national levels. Her passions for reading and writing fuel her craft and are embedded in her daily responsibilities. Most importantly, Kym believes in the power of literacy to save lives. Kym has served teachers as President of Florida Council of Teachers of English (FCTE 2011-2013) and is involved with the national group (NCTE) working with the anti-censorship committee. Throughout her life’s journey she continues to find ways to feed her passions and promote literacy.


Ghost Ranch, NM – August 31-September 4, 2015

The history of the West is enshrined with harrowing injustice and violence that I internalized. To survive as a child I challenged the colonial darkness that consumed my family. I noted very early on that my family flailed in the darkness, and the shadows attracted me because I wanted to free them from this moral quandary and into the light. But it was not to be–I wanted to challenge the shadow and vanquish its heart of darkness. I wanted to know why it devoured my family and answer the question: why was my family ravaged by a society that refused to accept an indigenous people–oppressed by vigilantes, military scavengers, homesteaders, pioneers, looters, land speculators, politicians and bankers. All took from us until we had nothing left but our own shame.

I was swimming in the murky lagoons of my family’s decent and I stayed in that swamp, abscessed with the decaying souls of my brothers and sisters. I gorged at self-hatred’s table and nourished my self-hatred on drugs, alcohol and violence until one day I remembered the beautiful boy I was–that amazing clarity and kindness in my eyes, the shy smile, the universe cradling my heart with love, cascading lullabies of light on my soul, lighting up my entire being with joy. After a lot of work, a lot of faith, and a lot of learning to love myself and others, I came out of the darkness.

That’s what I want us to explore in a larger framework at the Ghost Ranch retreat. I want others to use their experience too: we’ll merge, integrate and blend what we know, then sift through what works and doesn’t work. I want to use what we discover to help others wandering helplessly in life, many in worse situations. Our goal is to create a textbook we can offer to teachers and students.

So let’s get together and do this. I don’t believe in comfort zones. I believe in making our life what we want to be zones. And I believe that we the people can make it happen and raise our children in a way that allows them to love who they are. We will formulate lesson-plans and curriculum that will fortify our children and prepare them to become leaders.

Ghost Ranch offers adobe houses and dormitory accommodations, a cafeteria and pool, big sunlit rooms, hiking and horse back riding…everything to refresh one’s spirit.

By facilitating this “Smashing The Pipeline From School to Prison Summit” I want to give back what I’ve been gifted, blessed and honored with.

Everyone is welcome. You don’t have to be a specialist. Ordinary people are often the ones who invent and improve on older models. Step up and join us for this workshop and embrace the world with us. You’ll be surprised and amazed at how you’ve come into your own light again.


The cost of the workshop is $850.00 (does not include accommodations). To attend, contact Karen Vargas: or call (575)751-0952.

Cedar Tree Poetics

“Cedar Tree came about when my wife and I were hiking in the forest one day and a gusher thunderstorm came out of nowhere, lightning and thunder and downpours. We found refuge under a cedar tree.”
– Jimmy Santiago Baca

The mission of cedar tree poetics is to improve the human condition; to advance knowledge through compassion and literacy, through excellence in learning, discovery and engagement; and to serve as diverse a community as we can, adolescents on the edge and incarcerated children and adults.

A Place To Grow

First off, we have a very busy life. My wife and I both work, and work long hours. Trying to balance work and family is a labor of love. Most of the time our farm and animals are also a labor of love, but some times it is just hard labor. From feeding everyone, 2 and 4 legged beings, to milking the goats to improving the barn and property, the work never seems to end. But we both wouldn’t have it any other way. I was raised on my great uncles hog and dairy farm. My grandfather was in charge of the dairy cows, all Holsteins. I remember going with him and watching him set up the milking machines, preparing and feeding the cows, and of coarse, cleaning the stanchions. We moved half way across the country to Missouri when I was 8 years old. I visited and stayed the summers with him for many year. I never thought I would have that way of life back, especially living near St. Louis, Missouri. But things change. We now have a herd of 4 Nubian milking goat, that will double in the spring when all the new baby goats arrive. We built a green house last year and started hundreds of heritage plants that we used in our organic garden and gave to friends. It has been wonderful thus far and will only get better as our children get bigger and can understand and share in this wonderful place.