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With gratitude to the folks profiled in this essay. Your willingness to share so openly with me was vulnerable and courageous. This essay is about you and for you.


I am grateful to the women who grace these pages anonymously. We see you.


Many thanks to my instructors at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, especially Ben Hedin who helped me recognize that I wanted to create a piece of art and not a piece of investigative journalism; to Francine LaPointe, who served as my writing mentor for my Independent Study class; and to our small but mighty Final Project Seminar trio, Randy, Marie & Me.


My copy of Clinton Smith’s gorgeous coffee table book, Veranda The Romance of Flowers, serves as backdrop for the “I am…” poems presented in this essay. Used in the spirit of an altered book project, I took the MCDC women’s poems (submitted to me anonymously in the Summer of 2020) and pasted them onto some of my favorite images in the book.


Stitching Stories is a 25-foot-long prison awareness quilt, crocheted by women incarcerated at North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women as they survived COVID in prison, and offers interactive engagement with both the quilt and the women's stories. 


Can't Catch a Break: Gender, Jail, Drugs, and the Limits of Personal Responsibility is a book by Susan Sered and Maureen Norton-Hawk that Chaplain Sarah Jobe uses as a textbook for the prison studies course she teaches at Duke University.


The Prison Reimagining Project is an initiative by the Vera Institute of Justice proposing human dignity be the foundational, organizing principle of the nation’s corrections system.


We Are All Criminals is a non-profit organization dedicated to challenging society’s perceptions of what it means to be “criminal.” 


Ear Hustle is an award-winning podcast and book featuring stories of the daily realities of life inside California’s San Quentin State Prison (with an aim to have more incarcerated female stories and voices on the podcast).


Life Jolt is a podcast that examines the lives of women navigating Canada’s correctional system. (Ear Hustle introduced listeners to this podcast in August of 2021, in Season 7.)

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I tell you this
to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again
to the rest of the world.
Mary Oliver
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