Here is a startling fact: the number of women in prison in the United States has increased by 800 percent over the last three decades. It’s a disturbing trend — but fortunately there are some inspiring individuals and organizations out there working to reverse it.
Community Works, one of our educational partners for Community Classroom, is among them. When their youth programs manager Manijeh Fata invited me to see their theater ensemble Rising Voices last month, I knew it was a chance to see the life-changing potential of storytelling at work. Rising Voices is a paid internship program for previously incarcerated young women ages 18 to 25, located at the San Francisco Sheriff's Department Women's Reentry Center.
In the program the women took their personal stories and transformed them into fictionalized one-act plays. They developed characters who are trying to break free from patterns that have put them in contact with the criminal justice system — like a young girl who runs away from home and her abusive father, or a woman who strives for independence from her destructive but loving family, or another who resists a tempting drug deal to keep her life on track. I was blown away by the authentic dialogue and raw emotion of the women’s writing.
Afterwards, they shared with the audience how hard it was to open up and tell their stories, but ultimately how it helped them find their voice and find strength from one another. ITVS Community Classroom is partnering with Community Works to produce a new collection of film modules and curriculum about women, girls, and the criminal justice system. Our material poses the provocative question: can young women “at risk” become leaders? This resource will be a part of our Women and Girls Lead initiative. Stay tuned for the online launch in early fall 2011.
Watch this behind-the-scenes video interview with Rising Voices's Program Director Michelle Torres.
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