At the beginning of this month, our Right/Write to Heal Initiative traveled to Maine to perform their “Why I Write” spoken word and to visit currently incarcerated women who also participate in the program. The Right/Write to Heal Initiative is a writing group for formerly and currently incarcerated women whose mission is to impact the current narrative around incarcerated women by empowering them to write and directly share their own stories.
The following morning the group visited the Southern Maine Reentry Center to connect with the R/W2H women who participate in the weekly writing group via Zoom. The Southern Maine Reentry Center is Maine’s only female reentry center. Residents are serving shorter sentences and can work in the community during their incarceration. This was the first time some of the women from New York met the women from Maine in person. A delicious breakfast was served and our co-founder Cheryl Wilkins led the group in a circle where they all expressed how the writing group has impacted them. One woman was able to join from the maximum security unit. A native Brooklynite, she had not been outside since she was incarcerated there over 10 years ago. She was so excited for the visit and to connect with the women from New York. Some Corrections staff were present and were moved to tears by the women’s words. It was a powerful and emotional gathering for all. One of the group members from NYC, Judy, said, “Prison is so much about isolation and separation and so it was moving and powerful to transcend the walls for one day, to be with our Right/Write to Heal sisters and all the women inside the Maine Women’s facility.”
Next, the group was led through a visit of the maximum security prison close to the reentry center. It was difficult for many of the group to be inside prison walls again. Even in this environment the R/W2H group was able to gather in a circle and share their stories. The Center for Justice’s Co-Director, Cheryl Wilkins and one of the incarcerated sisters share a birthday and the amazing organizers brought cake for everyone. The difference in the environment of the maximum security prison and the Southern Maine Reentry Center was vast and really showed how much better women thrive when they are in an environment where they can live in a community and have access to programs and creative outlets.
After the visit, the group was invited to a local wellness center to decompress from the day. The women received facials, meditated, did reiki healing, went on walks through the woods, and just connected with nature and each other. Group member Yolanda said, “Maine was an amazing opportunity for women to support the journey of women.”
In just a short weekend and in addition to the Abolition Night and prison visits, the women had meals together, connected with advocates and local politicians in Maine, and grew closer as a group. As we know, visits in prison are lifelines for incarcerated people, and it was so important for us to bring the New York women and the Maine women to be able to hug each other outside of a Zoom screen. We are so grateful for this opportunity to not only connect with them but for the New York women to grow closer and experience healing on this trip. Program Manager Roz said, “It was a great gathering of justice-impacted people and advocates for criminal justice reform. My thanks go out to Michelle McLauchlan and her staff as well as Erica King for all the support and hard work getting this together. We had an amazing time.”