Earlier this month, I visited over 400 women at Swannanoa Correctional Center for Women in North Carolina.
Some of the women had already read my book. Several of them explained that they could have written the same book because they’d had nearly the same experiences prior to incarceration that I had had. Hearing this made me think about how women’s reactions to trauma and abuse are criminalized in this country. We punish women’s responses when we could really do something much different. Women who’ve been through trauma need a space to confront and heal from that trauma. Several of the women I spoke with were serving 90 days as a punishment for a drug relapse. Seeing these women made me think about how so many of us are punished for our mistakes rather than supported to work through them.
It was important for me to share my journey and to let each woman know that I believed in her. I
also spoke with the prison staff and social workers about creating a strategy to support the women while they are there so that they won’t relapse and return.
The reality is that women need a safe place to return to in their communities once they’re released. We spend so much money incarcerating women instead of helping them to make a positive transition back into the community.
The majority of the women said that after they’ve been released in the past, they return to their communities and engage in the same types of behavior that landed them there. They asked if I could build a program like A New Way of Life in Ashville, North Carolina. I let them know that I hope to replicate my program across the country.
I let the women know that I support them and that I am visiting them because I believe that their lives are valuable, and that they can have a life after incarceration. It will be a struggle and a fight to get that life, but it is possible.
So many women who cycle through incarceration need to know that there is hope after incarceration. I’m really grateful that I’ve been able to visit incarcerated women across the country. Their words let me know how important the work of A New Way of Life is and how crucial it is to replicate ANWOL to help women transition back into their respective communities.