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
T: 07984 241 863
You can also download the book in PDF format here: