defining survival

At the most basic level the need to trust implies one basic fact: you’re vulnerable. The ability to satisfy your needs or obtain the outcomes you desire is not entirely under your control. – David DeSteno

The writers we work with define themselves, consistently, as survivors. According to the American Jail Association,

“Women entering jails are much more likely to have experienced poverty, intimate partner violence, sexual abuse, and/or other forms of victimization often linked to their offending behavior. (

In our writing this week, we wrote reflections on our experiences of past abuse. We don’t often ask such pointed questions or ask writers to speak directly about trauma in their pasts. The purpose of this work was to 1) to tell and retell our stories, offering multiple viewpoints from our own individual perspectives. Essentially, what we knew then versus what we know now. And 2) to chart our narratives from something done to us to what we do next, from victim to survivor, from here to now and how incarceration weaves into and/or reinforces an abusive narrative. How does one feel human even if treated inhumanely? 

In the piece, you’ll read below, one writer explores a specific event and how her experience of incarceration changed her view on this event. Survival is continuing to live not diminished but different, affected but unashamed and, perhaps, newly unafraid.

Goodbye Cruel World

In the beginning, I was angry.
I hated the abuse, the way it made me feel.
Do this, Don’t do that, What is wrong with you?
I felt like a slave,
A very scared slave, for oh so many years.
When I was being pushed out of the
moving vehicle
I cried, I screamed, I saw my
life flash before my eyes.
At the very last second
a blast of sirens filled the air
Oh my God! You have saved me!
The slave driving idiot, was taken
from his seat.
Down the road he was brought
authorities pointing a gun, as he knelt
on the ground.
Hands cuffed behind his back.
I was greeted by an angel
actually a tall, burly cop.
He explained someone reported
a man pushing a women,
the passenger door ajar.
He spoke to me, “Are you okay mam’?”
I was crying, a river down my cheeks.
I’m OK, but as I looked down the
street, seeing a bad sight.
I lied through my tears, saying
I was just getting some air.
He knew I was being, but I stuck
to what I said.
Afraid of the consequences, I was in a stupor.
This lifestyle could have ended that day—
What was wrong with me?—
Well, now I know, now I’m strong!
It seems, being incarcerated, has woken me up.
I have seen the light and will never go back.


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