This blog posting is part of an ongoing series following our founder Susan Burton as she tours prisons, jails and re-entry programs across America with her book, “Becoming Ms. Burton.”
Last week I had the honor of visiting Hawaii and meeting with all five justices of the Hawaii Supreme Court to discuss ways to reduce recidivism through programs like ANWOL. It was a robust conversation that I believe will lead to further dialogue about how to positively impact the lives of incarcerated people in Hawaii.
I went to Women’s Correctional Center (WCC) near Honolulu and was lucky enough to be there during “Prison Women Speak,” an annual program where the women showcase their talents. I was moved by their poetry recitations, dance numbers, skits and of songs of the movement. The resilience of the women was so pronounced, and I understood it.
The talent that exists in prisons across our country is striking. We spend millions of dollars to incarcerate these women, and following their release they have nothing, and all of the talent and all of the time they spent working on themselves is lost. It’s a waste – both for these women and for society.
While at WCC I also participated in the graduation of women involved in the Restorative Justice program. The 20-week program provides the women with tools for healing and reconciliation, which they in turn have taken into the general population in order to resolve conflicts and promote restorative justice among their peers. Empowering women to begin their own healing processes and use their experiences to help one another is a big step toward change in that population. The women were visibly moved by their experience in the class. One of the women present, who has cycled in and out of prison, expressed that this course was the first program that she’d ever participated in. She was really grateful for the opportunity and learned so much in her 20 week sessions.
Even though I’ve done my own time in prison, whenever I’m able to go back into a facility, I am grateful. I consider myself fortunate to share with these women in their moment of accomplishment. To people on the outside, graduating from a restorative program or standing up and reading a poem in front of people may not seem like much. But for incarcerated women, these achievements are everything. They are steps toward healing and regaining hope. I was so happy to be there to share the moment with them.