A Sort of Homecoming
Excerpt from Volunteer Today, The Federal Bureau of Prisons Newsletter
…Some wonder why a Minnesota author would want to come all the way to West Virginia….why would she want to devote time and effort to start a writing program in a prison?
The answers hinge on Deborah’s earliest experiences. She was born and spent her first year at FPC Alderson. The Bureau now does not allow inmates to keep babies at its institutions.
Deborah’s writing program is the first of its kind in the Bureau, but she hasn’t stopped…she also took her program to the high-security unit at Marianna and met with great enthusiasm from 50 inmate participants.
Prison Prose: Writer helps women inmates find a voice behind bars, where she spent the first year of her life.
Saint Paul Pioneer Press (excerpt)
Born inside a prison’s walls, Deborah Jiang Stein always knew she would go back. She has returned many times, though not for the reasons you might guess.
Her first forays back into a prison’s cool corridors were to construct a memory of her first mother, the mother she never really knew. But their separation when she was one year old failed to cut a cord of connection to her birth mother and the institutions that were her home.
…Writing gives the women a voice, something most don’t think they have, she says.
It also offers a kind of freedom. One woman told me, “I forget where I am, when I am here with you,” she says.
…“My writing validates that I matter, that I count,” say Violet Johnson, who has spent more than a decade inside [Shakopee Prison, Minnesota] after conviction for aiding and abetting a brother’s murder.
Johnson went on, “She could relate to us. You felt a connectedness, instead of somebody in high society trying to teach us something.”
Jiang Stein influenced Twarna Richardson to pick up a pen and paper for the first time in many years… after serving 14 1/2 years on a murder conviction, she hopes to pursue an idea – to compile the stories she’s written about her life in a gang and in prison.
Richardson says, “She stuck out in my mind by being born inside a prison. It takes a courageous person to say you’re born in a prison.”
Jiang Stein’s story gave Richardson hope for her own daughter…
“It’s not a voice most people hear,” the writer says of women prisoners. “That’s what excites me about my work. I feel it’s a thread between two worlds that will never meet.”
Deborah has beaten a path between those two worlds.
“I have two backgrounds to integrate…”
She hangs on to a goal of teaching a class in each of the nation’s state and federal women’s prisons.
Women write poetry in ‘unexpected place’ (excerpt)
ARTWORKS, From the West Virginia Commission on the Arts
Carolyn P. says she’ll probably say a little prayer before reading her work…she is serving a nine-year sentence on a felony drug charge.
The inmates see Deborah as an equal,” says John Critzer, assistant supervisor of education at Alderson. “They’re very open with her…They’re always asking me about the next class, and the people who were with her originally are still actively involved – that’s unusual.
“We’ve developed a bond amongst ourselves – as well as with Deborah,” explains inmate Charlene Johnson.
“I write to let everyone else know,” Johnson says, “especially people on the outside, that we have these feelings…People say we made choices and that separated us from our children. But it doesn’t mean we like it or we wanted it to be that way.”
Today, Patterson, whose poem took fifth place in a national Bureau of Prisons writing contest last year – writes about her passion and anger over problems she knows exist on the outside.
Public Radio: American Media, The Story with Dick Gordon Once link opens, scroll to bottom of page, left side, “Listen Now” for the play button
Essay: Remembering Martha
First year of life in prison
Deborah Jiang Stein: Helps Moms in Prison Find Their Voice
Born in prison, she changed family legacy of drugs and violence.
Child Welfare League of America
Babies Behind Bars
Love Talk Radio Interview
Hyphen Magazine: Asian Americans Unabridged
Against All Odds
Also reprinted on M.A.R.A. Celebrity - More Asians Rockin’ America
Prison baby shares story