Hindsight beyond 20/20.
How do we frame the events of our lives? Do our past experiences and choices dictate our future? When faced with creating a place in the world, is it better to deny, explore, or transcend our past?
Using projections, narrative, and photographs, this newest Hidden Voices project traces the steps and missteps that led an enthusiastic cheerleader and ballerina to life as NC prison inmate 0423358. This former member of the North Carolina Women’s Prison Writing Project was incarcerated for 12 years before being released. Regina’s story is a frank look at the personal traumas and choices that landed her at 17 in a hotel room beside a body and a gun and at the daunting challenges and uncertainties of her new life outside.
By exploring the trajectory of one woman’s development from abused and rebellious child to insightful adult, the project raises questions about race, abuse, poverty, and the criminal justice system. More than 95% of those in prison will return to our communities. Typically, literacy rates are low and abuse rates are high in the prison population. What support do inmates need during their time in prison and upon release in order to reintegrate as empowered citizens within our communities? How do we as a society need to change so that we lower our rates of incarceration and raise our expectations for those who are released?
After several years of working in conjunction with the North Carolina Women’s Writing and Performance Project, it became clear to us that it was time to explore and explode commonly-held stereotypes about inmates and incarceration. What we saw over and over was that former inmates returned to the community with few emotional or financial resources to help bridge that transition. Since many of the women with whom we worked had been imprisoned when they were young, they had little or no idea how to write a check, cook, drive, or budget. At the same time, the women faced higher than normal requirements for rent deposits, car insurance, and a host of other needs. They had few opportunities for any jobs, even those who had earned a college degree while incarcerated. Many simply gave up.
Because Regina was a talented writer and speaker, as well as a dancer, we asked if she would share her story in order to help others understand the reality that drives many women to commit crimes in the first place. She was an ideal subject. Beautiful, talented, introspective, and articulate, her very image flew in the face of common stereotypes. Her words rocked those who heard them and made them laugh, weep, and reconsider more than one outdated opinion.