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July 27, 2013

A Children’s Book About Incarceration

by balexisd

For the past month, I have been learning about the Prison Industrial Complex and all the different aspects of society, all the different people who are affected by it. I have listened to former prisoners share their stories of torture and isolation, and shed tears with them while they recounted what it took for them to maintain sanity. I have listened to the frustrations of my peers and have felt the overwhelming sense of impossibility at fixing something so deeply broken. I’ve heard the passionate voices of Chicago’s youth speak and sing out against the violence happening in our country. I’ve listened as stories were shared, and have pushed myself to share my own perspective too.

So many people that I’ve spoken to about prison and what it does to our society are already so well versed in the subject that I can feel myself withdrawing as a speaker, choosing to instead be a listener. This has been an interesting experience for me, as I’ve always been the type to speak my mind and contribute freely to classroom and group discussions. At these meetings, I have struggled to define for myself my position in the space. I’ve felt unsure about the things I wanted to say, about not wanting to offend anyone because of my lack of knowledge or understanding. I quickly realized, though, that any real learning cannot blossom in fear. I have willed myself to understand that it is okay to be wrong. Fear of asking or fear of offending might even be what is keeping us from understanding each other. Fear creates boundaries, fear creates hate. In this space I may not speak as much as other people, but I have come to feel that my value in this space lies in my ability to listen, record, and translate.

I have also tried to pay close attention to the facilitators of these workshops, the language and strategies that they use to teach. Starting as soon as I can confirm dates, I will be leading workshops for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women. It has been difficult setting up times for meetings with the different organizations I am trying to work with throughout Chicago, but things are finally coming together. In these workshops, I will be providing the women with journals. I will lead an art exercise where we will decorate the journals with collaged memories of childhood or their children, and then lead a letter writing exercise. I will invite these parents to share their hopes, fears, and dreams for the children they left behind.

What did you want them to know while you were gone?

How did you feel when you had to leave them?

What are your hopes for their future?

What do you dream for them?

These are some of the questions that I hope the women of these workshops can help me answer. I will then collect letters from those willing to share and use their words as inspiration for the children’s book I will be writing about the impact of incarceration on families. I have a long road ahead of me, but I am so excited about the possibilities for this book.

Until next time,


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