The Right/Write to Heal: Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women in Their Own Voices is a new initiative with the Center for Justice (CfJ) at Columbia University’s School of Social Work and VDay. We believe the time is overdue for women to tell their own stories, in their own voices, about how they came to be incarcerated, what prison has done to their lives, and what they face on the inside and after being released. Our mission with Right/Write to Heal: Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women in Their Own Voices is to impact the current narrative by empowering women to write and directly share their own stories through mainstream and social media, podcasts, and a published anthology, all archived for historical purposes; and the ultimate goal is to humanize the unique individual and collective experiences of women, particularly women of color, who from early in their lives face racism, violence, and structural barriers that lead to punishment and imprisonment.
Through this initiative, women share how they cope with the consequences of incarceration on themselves, their families, and communities, with the goal of changing how people understand the impact of criminalization on women. Also, writing and storytelling are therapeutic interventions for people who have experienced loss and trauma and can lead to healing, redemption, and intimacy when shared collectively and with others who have been impacted.
The dominant perception is that since men are incarcerated in larger numbers than women, reform and abolition efforts should concentrate their efforts on men in prison. However, by ignoring the impact of violence, criminalization, and incarceration on women, we abandon them and their families. In recent decades, the incarceration rate for women and girls has grown twice as fast as the rate for men.
The dramatic increase in the rate of women’s incarceration has created an urgent public health and humanitarian crisis. Nearly 90% of incarcerated women have experienced sexual violence and trauma; nearly two-thirds of women imprisoned in New York for killing someone close to them experienced violence and abuse from that person; 60% of incarcerated women are forced to leave young children in the care of relatives and friends; and women are more likely than men to be imprisoned for drug and property crimes. Instead of providing greater economic opportunities, better education, higher quality housing, and alternatives to incarceration, we punish women with imprisonment— which is ineffective in combating root causes of crime and erodes public safety.
Women with criminal justice involvement are mothers, daughters, sisters, and grandmothers, removed from the fabric of their families and communities. Even with such traumatic separation, and under difficult daily circumstances, incarcerated women pursue higher education, mentor each other, and develop familial ties on the inside. Once released, they serve as critical support for one another, creating and nourishing supportive communities.
Our ultimate goal is to use art to engage activism and social justice and to solidify the artistic vision of the collective imagination.
Twenty years ago, Eve Ensler’s play The Vagina Monologues gave birth to V-Day, a global activist movement to end violence against all women (cisgender, transgender, and gender non-conforming), girls and the planet. V-Day believes that when art and activism come together, they have the power to transform systems and change culture.
The Vagina Monologues and other works have been performed across the world by local activists, survivors and artists, raising over $120 million dollars for grassroots anti-violence groups, rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters, and safe houses, shattering taboos and changing the way activists make change in their communities. V-Day supports and launched the City of Joy, a revolutionary center for women survivors of gender violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has graduated over 1400 women leaders. V-World Farm, also in Congo, is a sustainable and collective farm that acts as a living classroom for the students at the City of Joy and the surrounding community.
Roslyn Smith, V-Day’s Beyond Incarceration Program Manager (and an original member of VDay’s , “What I Want My Words to Do to You” the writing group at Bedford Hills) will coordinate the Right/Write to Heal project. Roslyn’s work with V-Day expands and deepens V-Day’s ongoing work with formerly incarcerated women and incarcerated women, engaging and educating activists throughout the US and worldwide in a dialogue around restorative justice. V-Day’s Voices campaign will dovetail beautifully with this Right/Write to Heal project.
In 2013, V-Day gave birth to One Billion Rising – the largest mass action to demand an end to violence against women in history. V-Day and One Billion Rising are a crucial part of the global fight to stop gender-based violence through attacking the silence — public and private — that allows violence against women to continue. With ingenuity and determination, V-Day activists around the world are tirelessly working to end harassment, rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation and sex slavery. For more info, visit http://www.vday.org
For more information about Right/Write to Heal, contact:
Roslyn Smith, V Day’s Beyond Incarceration Program Manager ([email protected])
Cheryl Wilkins, CfJ Associate Director ([email protected])