This issue of The Fire Inside focuses on one reason we print the newsletter: to create a space for women inside to communicate with each other and with the outside. Writing has helped many women. Just expressing grief, guilt, or problems helps one deal with all those emotions.
Writing helps one come to terms with one’s own history. For most women prisoners it is a painful history, which in many cases our society has made unspeakable. By giving it expression, by the simple act of explaining your story, of putting it into words, you can start a healing process and take charge of who you are and who you would like to become.
There is even more power in seeing your story in print. The prison is designed to isolate people. Sharing, through writing or drawing or singing or in any other way, breaks down the isolation. It helps you feel that even though you are isolated in many ways, your voice matters. We know, for example, that Charisse Shumate was thrilled to see her stories in print. It helped her alter her own perception of herself to see her thoughts in print.
For many women, writing starts as an expression of deeply felt personal experiences. One story, though individual, helps many women “hear it”, identify with some aspect of it and realize they are not alone. Written communication breaks out of the prison walls and allows the world to see the truth about prisons and prisoners.
Prisons are, after all, just a reflection and concentration of what is wrong in the whole of society. Writing is a way of communicating about the social environment and what prisoners feel needs to be changed. Certainly racism, as experienced in prison, is also a reality outside. Abuse that women prisoners experience started for most before they were incarcerated. A deep reflection into one’s own life can result in a deeper understanding of the world at large. Those in prison have ideas of what to change and how to go about it that go far beyond the prison walls.
We, as activists, are used to demanding that “powers that be” change bad systems and bad policies. It certainly can make a difference when legislators or others “in power” grant a change for the better. But writing encourages other changes as well. We have seen women prisoners grow through a development of all the things that cannot be granted from the outside: belief in yourself, in your own dignity, in your desire and ability to improve yourself.
This development is expressed through a solidarity with other women prisoners. Who you are is no longer solely determined by your past and what others may have done to you, but how you interact with those around you. The practice of solidarity among women prisoners changes the very meaning of solidarity, it deepens and concretizes it. Solidarity is what CCWP was created to promote. This strong sense of solidarity is what we can hope to build a whole new world on.
We love to print your articles. That is why we exist, But the Fire Inside can very rarely print anything exactly as it is sent to us. It is our editorial policy is that we reserve the right to edit, mostly for length, but sometimes for grammar, punctuation and/or readability.