Voices from a Mexican Women’s Prison (We Tell Our Stories Through these Walls)
This summer, I headed to the Yucatán to teach and document a creative writing workshop in the women’s area of a prison (known as a Cereso, or Center for Social Reinsertion) in Mérida, México.
Over the course of the two-month workshop, in which we read stories by Jorge Luis Borges and Sandra Cisneros, as well as Mayan folklore, it became clear to me that my students were gifted storytellers who shared a pressing desire to read, write, and make their stories known. The writings they began to produce express themes central to their status as prisoners: they speak of violence, injustice, homelessness and displacement, separation (particularly the wrenching separation between mother and child), loneliness, and social and economic marginalization.
In collaborative fashion, we workshopped their stories and at the end of August we turned them into a book, which we collectively titled Nos contamos a través de los muros (We Tell Our Stories Through these Walls), published by a local Mérida press. So far, the book has been presented at the Cereso de Mérida and at a community event at Apapacho Café in downtown Mérida. Plans are in the works for presentations this fall at the Festival Internacional de Lectura (FILEY) in Mérida and at UCLA’s Latin American Institute.
Through this project, I learned about the hard conditions surrounding prison life in Mexico, conditions which are shaped and determined long before any individual crime is committed. I also saw first-hand the value of literature and education as tools for building self-esteem and a supportive community within such an environment–essential ingredients for personal growth and transformation. Watching the determination with which my students wrote and rewrote their stories, seeing the joy on their faces when they received their books, and hearing the pride in their voices when they spoke of their accomplishment and looked forward to sharing it with their families, have provided some of the most gratifying moments of my academic career.
On behalf of myself and the women of the Cereso de Mérida, I send a heartfelt thank you to the Mellon Public Scholars program for supporting this project.
Here is a link to the blog I wrote over the course of the summer about the workshop. Photography by Albert Durán.
A video about the workshop:
For information about book or film presentations, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Watch the DHI’s homepage for the 2016-17 Call for Proposals.