Over 90% of women in prison are survivors of gender-based violence and other forms of abuse, according to a report from the Women’s Justice Institute.
On Wednesday, survivors at Logan Correctional Center in central Illinois are putting on a performance in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Twenty-one people will perform over Zoom and share their stories through poems, monologues and more. After the show, performers will join a panel discussion.
Sandra Brown, a performer and a visiting scholar with the Women’s Justice Institute, said art can serve as a medium where the public can connect to her experience as well as others.
“When we’re in that space, where we fuse art and life together, I found that people are more receptive and open to listening,” Brown said. “To say, ‘hey, maybe this really did happen,’ or they start thinking about people in their own lives that it has happened to, or maybe they start rethinking the things that have happened to them and going, ‘hey, maybe I am a survivor.’”
One piece Brown will read is her poem titled, “Enough.” She said poetry is her creative spirit. Part of the poem reads: “Eyes not blinded by beatings are dulled by indifference. But when I’m at enough, loved enough, learned I was good enough, I had enough. My makeup no longer hides last night’s beatings. I plant my flowers, plan my tomorrows, live my todays and speak my mind with an unmistakable voice, allergic to invalidation.”
Instead of providing support and assistance that survivors need, they’re often criminalized, said Alexis Mansfield, senior advisor with the Women’s Justice Institute. She pointed to the 90% of women in prison that are survivors of gender-based violence and the link between surviving abuse and the criminal justice system.
People who survived abuse could be vulnerable economically, pushed towards addiction to cope or have a lack of housing security – factors that can push people to incarceration, according to Mansfield.
“Often when we don’t have the resources to properly address an issue, we put people in prison,” Mansfield said.
And getting incarcerated as a survivor can be re-traumatizing, Brown said.
“For so many women to sit with astronomical sentences because they lived through an experience—I consider it domestic violence on a national level, a state level, a legal level,” Brown said. “It sends the message that women legally don’t have the right to live unless the law deems their situations defendable.”
Incarcerated survivors have difficulty telling their stories because they’ve been silenced, whether it’s by an abuser or the criminal justice system, she said.
“I’m glad that that is changing now, we’re redefining our narratives, we are telling our stories,” Brown said.
Note: this story will be updated with video.