Why Women in Prison Lose Their Dreams

One of the most gut-wrenching things I learned about a woman in the weekly workshop I teach in prison was that her mother shot her up with heroin for the FIRST time when she was 10-yrs old.  That was until today when I was told that a woman in my class was recently set on fire by her pimp.  I learned this about 2 hours ago.  There is a new hole in my heart left by the part that feels as if it was scooped away and dropped into the pit of my stomach.

Another woman shared that she set HERSELF on fire while smoking crack.  Others have been battered to a pulp.  Most have lost their children.  I’ve heard stories like this week after week after week and if I EVER become inured to them it will be the signal to stop.  That will never happen.

These women, at one time or another have lived their dreams that arose from their talents.  They have been on their high-school debate teams, restaurant owners, professional organizers, ice skaters and nurses.  They’ve been sober, parents, dance instructors and world travelers.  One or several missteps have broken some of them, crushing their spirit and the hope that they will ever be who they were meant to become.

Because of their criminal backgrounds and repeat felonies, one woman can never be the judge she wanted to be.  One will never be able to work with children, the one thing she knows she’s good at.  Others will go back to the way they ran their lives before they became incarcerated, turning tricks and forging checks to make the money they need to support a daily drug habit.  They admit that in no time in their lives did they dream of giving a guy a hand job for $20.

Today, a young woman asked if I knew how to interpret dreams.  I said that I could take a shot at it and here’s what she shared:

“In my dream which I have a lot, I’m at the methadone clinic and Jesus is standing right next to me.  He’s there to get his fix too.  He tells me that if I don’t stop using I will die and that God will never forgive me.  He says that if I do stop, there is a chance that my son will forgive me and that God will too.”

To the rest of us this seemed rather obvious.  One of the women responded by saying, “Yeah, it means stop fucking using!”  Point taken.

I’ve asked the women to write about their dreams and the steps they might take to achieve them and to next week share them with the class.   I can’t imagine what a woman who has been set on fire will say, but I just want to tell her so very badly that the world is okay and that there is room in it for people like her to succeed.  How in the world would she ever believe that that is the case?

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3 Comments

  1. Find the women for whom it is and bring them to class!

  2. The stories you share in this post are heart wrenching and true. I was incarcerated for 54 months and I listened to life stories that made me sick to my stomach. I have been home 10 months and am committed to this population of forgotten women. Yes, for many women who arrive at a prison they have had a rough time in life. Even worse, is when they return the deck is stacked against them in new ways. Although, prison is not easy and for me without a doubt not a place that this white collar, first time and non-violent woman will ever return, I understand today differently recidivism and how easily it is to feel like your life and your dreams no longer matter. Thank you for writing this piece. Thank you for your dedication and your very important work. Re-entry projects like yours and re-entry strategies in general are important. Teresa HodgePearls In Prison

  3. Tom

    I work with men in the Allegheny County Jail. It's not prison, but the stories have similar issues of brokenness, pain, and hopelessness. I find that the challenge is addressing how that brokenness affects the ways in which the men think and make decisions. It has damaged their cognitive abilities. The goal is to break thru those defective thinking cycles. That is very hard. But if you don't, then they are only depending on will power to change.

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