Posted on 27 April 2011
This book was written for you. Of course, I don’t know who you are and the women who wrote the poems and life stories in this book don’t know you personally. But we decided it was important to share what some women have thought and felt about their lives and about self-harm, in the hope that their experiences will mean something to you. And whatever your relationship to self-harm might be, maybe these women’s words will encourage you to write your own story.
Writing can be a good way to explore, and show, what’s going on inside of you. As Anne-Marie, one of the poets in this book, told me, ‘Writing helps me make sense of my emotions, helps me understand how I feel. It helps me communicate and offload’. And as Anne Frank* wrote in her diary, ‘Paper is more patient than people’. The piece of paper you write your thoughts on won’t tell you that you’re stupid, wrong, or ‘crazy’ and it won’t say ‘That didn’t happen’ or ‘You didn’t see that’. With poetry, you can express your thoughts and release your feelings in a very few words. It can help you reach out and feel less alone. And because so many women have had the reality of their experiences denied or ignored, writing your life story can be a way of putting the record straight and taking charge of your life.
As a poet, I write about issues that are important to me – about being a woman, about being the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, about the mental health system. I also help others to write what they want to and for the past eight years I have been running creative writing workshops in prisons. I was inspired to do this work by Mark, who had been in prison for a long time when I met him and who taught me how writing was his freedom. He taught me that no-one can lock up your mind, no-one can dictate where your imagination can and can’t take you.
I do the work I do because I want us as women to feel good about ourselves and I want us to have places where we can speak openly and honestly about our lives. This is an essential part of building a future where women are no longer mistreated, put-down, abused or seen as ‘less than’. I also want women to have safe outlets for painful feelings, so that no woman would feel a need to hurt herself.
Many women in and out of prison self-harm. Although only 5% of prisoners in this country are female, women account for almost 50% of reported cases of self-harm in prison. As women, we’re not born wanting to hurt ourselves, not born feeling bad about ourselves or struggling to let our feelings out. But things happen to us that leave us feeling that we deserve to be hurt, just for being female and for being young or Black or poor or any of the other identities women have.
There are, of course, many ways a woman can hurt herself. Feeling like she’s worthless might mean that she ends up in a series of abusive relationships or numbs herself with drugs, alcohol and other addictions. For some women, injuring themselves seems like the only way to deal with painful emotions, the only way to get through their life or through their time in prison. When I was employed by the Writers in Prison Network to be a writerin- residence in a women’s prison, women told me over and over again about their early experiences of abuse, humiliation, abandonment, violence or threats of violence – experiences that left them with unbearable feelings that seemed impossible to face. One result of these experiences is that women blame themselves and hurt themselves before someone else can. This book is an example of women writing the truth about their lives. I met all of the women in prison and they wrote their poems and stories in my workshops or whilst working one-to-one with me. Their experiences are sometimes painful to read but I hope you’ll find it inspiring to learn what other women have survived. Maybe you’ll be encouraged to write your story. On pages 58–66, I offer some ideas to help you find a way into writing and also for dealing safely with feelings that may come up as you write. Why not have a go?
The book can be ordered at a cost of £7 plus p&p from New Leaf Books - 5, Wardley Road, Walton, Warrington, Cheshire, WA4 6JA
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