Late last year, I saw an article in my local paper about a creative writing program for female inmates in three area county jails. At the jail in my county, the program was a few thousand dollars short and would have to be canceled for part of 2018 if funding wasn’t found.
As an author, reading about the healing powers these women experienced through telling their stories through writing poetry spoke to me. I called the contact and he directed me to COMPAS, a nonprofit organization whose mission is for people to experience the power of creativity. I met with the Executive Director, Dawne White, Joan Humphrey Linck, Director of Development, and another staff member to learn more.
What I discovered was amazing. In collaboration with two authors and the public library system, the Women’s Writing Program has published 197 women writers in 28 anthologies since its inception in 2012 at the Ramsey County Correctional Facility in St. Paul. The program expanded to the Sherburne County Jail in 2014 and Washington County in 2016. Each book of poetry is given an official ISBN number and can be found in Twin Cities libraries. The women become published authors, increasing their self-esteem and confidence while reducing recidivism substantially. COMPAS holds readings a few times a year in which the former inmates read their poetry. I signed on before we’d finished our coffee.
Many people will read this and say, “So what? If they’re in jail, they probably deserve it. I don’t care.” I’ve read some of the poetry. It is raw, unflinching, emotional, beautiful, exquisite, heartbreaking, empowering. These women write about horrors we in predominantly white, suburban America can barely fathom, much less comprehend. But these women do matter, and they tell the unvarnished truth.
From More Than Just a Number, Volume 6 published in March 2018, just two of the remarkable poems that stuck with me. Volumes of poetry from the Women’s Writing Program can be purchased for $15.00.
You’re a Disease and I’ll Quit if I Please
by Bailey Nicole Hansen
I used to believe that you were my best friend
thought you were here till the very end
You made me feel too high
But left me too low
You took it all
My family, friends,
you took me
So this is it
You don’t mean shit
I’m taking my life back,
getting back on track
this is goodbye to you
This time we are through
Secret of Butterfly
by Wilaiwan Phim
See the lovely butterfly
Sailing in the sky of blue
It just might be your guardian angel
Checking on you in her secret way