Recently Released Female Prisoners Speak to Claremont Students About Their Experiences

By Eliza Silverman '14Copy Editor

On Nov. 18, eight women came to Scripps campus to speak in Balch Hall for an hour—eight women who had served a combined 239 years in prison. Students from Professor Sue Castagnetto’s Feminist Ethics class invited these women, all recently released from California state prisons and living communally in a halfway house called Crossroads, to discuss their experiences and comment on the injustices they had faced and continue to face within the criminal justice system. The monologues heard that night were incredibly moving—nothing could have prepared me for the moment of one woman explaining that, “this coming Christmas will be the first Christmas I will not be beaten by my father or my husband for opening a gift—for being beaten because I was not good enough.”

These eight women—introduced as Mary Ann, Ivy, Linda Lee, Margaret, Sharelle, Margo, Frankie and Gloria—exemplified strength beyond measure. Confined to a small cell for an average of 30 years and subject to much verbal and physical abuse, each and every one of them fought hard to derive meaning in their every day interactions with others and with themselves. The women described, in sometimes chilling detail, particular experiences and memories from their times in incarceration. One woman petitioned for parole in front of a board 15 times before parole was granted to her. One woman painted a verbal picture of the horrific and highly dangerous makeshift abortion she had witnessed. Many described mistreatment from guards, the almost-unfathomably low pay for what jobs within the prison they were able to secure, and the sadness resulting from the deaths or releases of friends. Each woman maintained that within the system, good relationships with inmates and staff are of paramount importance.

All eight women are currently residents of Crossroads, a house that assists women recently released in prison by fostering a positive transition period to the outside community, which is often a daunting process. “[Being in prison] will always be a part of me,” said one woman. Several of the women have vowed to take action against the injustices within the incarceration system, such as the inefficiency of the parole system, now that they are released. Another woman described, with bittersweet humor, her incompetence with modern technology, especially cell phones. At the end of the hour, the audience was noticeably saddened by the stories shared, and yet the collective joy emanated from the former prisoners was infectious and inspiring.

“During the course of only one hour, it was incredible to witness how far these women have come,” said attendant Molly Fassler (’14). I agree—and reflect that it was the most valuable hour of my year thus far in Claremont.