Writing with the women at WCCW provides me with innumerable lessons and insights into my own life. Each time I drive to the facility, I am reminded that within only a few hours I will drive home again. On my way home I may stop for something to eat if I am hungry, go by the mall for something I need for my home, or perhaps stop for a cup of coffee and take the time to call a friend or family member. While each of these things seem rather routine and mundane, it is these simple freedoms and actions of choice that give me a sense of autonomy and responsibility, as well as the confidence to take care of myself as I move through the world.
Meanwhile, the women at WCCW are living with many of their choices removed. Many would argue that this is the point of incarceration, that removing choice is needed to both punish and reform. While that conversation is much too complex to address in this small piece, I would like to advocate for their need to cultivate choice, autonomy, healthy self-expression, and greater self-esteem. These are fundamental aspects of living a healthy, responsible, and productive life, and as contrary as it may seem, a period of incarceration may be one of the few windows when individuals with a marginalized or impoverished background can truly focus on building these aspects of their own identity.
So how does writing accomplish these things? Many of us think of writing as something that only a select group of people can do. Of course we were all taught to write and writing may play some perfunctory role in our daily lives, but to write – to write for pleasure, creative expression, or self-inquiry – is something that only “writers” can do. This is simply not true. Writing is a form of communication, choice making, creative expression, and self-inquiry that any and all of us can do.
Take Stephanie’s piece below as an example. Stephanie attended the first class of our 6-week If Writers’ Series under the impression that she could not write. She wanted to try and learn, but it was not something she was currently able to do. Stephanie left that first class with a smile across her face and a whole new identity. Confidence, curiosity, and motivation were all there after only one 2-hour class.
What is magical about writing is the number of places we can go, the parts of ourselves and our life stories that we can visit. There are tears and difficult emotions in all of our classes, often arising when we are exploring painful parts of our life stories or current obstacles in connecting with ourselves and others, but there are also pieces that are playful and inspiring. Perhaps most importantly, there is the writing that reveals unacknowledged aspects of the writer’s personality and intelligence allowing them to more fully embody and appreciate themselves.
Writing, as we say in The If Writers Program description, is “revealing, empowering, and transformative.”
What does it mean to be a woman?
To be a woman is to dream big, be ever so strong when faced with adversity, staying attentive to my goals and dreams. Thinking back to my sisters of old. Learning from them the strength to carry on.
To stay spiritual having love, peace, joy, compassion, and harmony toward my fellow beings. Praise God daily for who I am today. Love life. Love me.
Do unto others as I’d have done to me. Share my wisdom of my life both good and bad. Love who I am, a woman who’s been to the school of hard knocks, but still dares to dream.
It takes discipline, determination, and sheer desire on my part to obtain whatever goals I set for myself; one being to never go back.
-Stephanie If Writers Series graduate December 2014