Friday, June 22, 2007

Couldn't Keep It to Myself: Testimonies from Our Imprisoned Sisters by Wally Lamb and the Women of York Correctional Institution

Completion Date: June 20, 2007
Publication Year: 2003
Pages: 368
Received from Harper Collins in 2007

Reason for Reading: I love both of Wally Lamb's books, so when I heard about this one I decided that I had to read it one of these days. Then, I got it in the mail, and here we are.

In a stunning work of insight and hope, New York Times bestselling author Wally Lamb once again reveals his unmatched talent for finding humanity in the lost and lonely and celebrates the transforming power of the written word.

For several years, Lamb has taught writing to a group of women prisoners at York Correctional Institution in Connecticut. In this unforgettable collection, the women of York describe in their own words how they were imprisoned by abuse, rejection, and their own self-destructive impulses long before they entered the criminal justice system. Yet these are powerful stories of hope and healing, told by writers who have left victimhood behind.

In his moving introduction, Lamb describes the incredible journey of expression and self-awareness the women took through their writing and shares how they challenged him as a teacher and as a fellow author. Couldn't Keep It to Myself is a true testament to the process of finding oneself and working toward a better day.

This book can open up lots of discussion. I know that when I finished it I found myself talking to the other person who was in the room with me at the time, and we have very different opinions on how a person should be treated after they commit a crime. I really want that person to read this book because it is very eye-opening, and I think that it helps people see the other side of the bars in a way that has never been explored before. I remember there was a Canadian woman who challenged the early jail system for whipping the inmates. She was ridiculed because she was a woman, but no one could call such harsh treatment appropriate and normal.

I will say it right now, the reason that I likely find myself relating to these women is because I know parts of their stories because they are not so different from my own. I can very easily see how they were treated as children can relate to who they become as adults, especially when the other parent is working to support the family and cannot always be there the way that a child needs. I was not horrified by the people that these women have become, I was gladdened by the fact that they seem to know where they came from, and by understanding the past you can make changes for the future.

These stories capture a small percentage of the women locked up in institutions across the United States. These women tell you very plainly about the abuse, struggles, and abandonment that they faced as adults and children. You hear the stories that no one else tells, the stories of how they really are people and they really do have their own lives. They are not the crimes that they have committed, they are people. Wally Lamb has put together a collection that puts faces to the statistics, it makes them more than numbers. Each story is very powerful and you can see how hard it would be to tell the world what you faced in your life. All of these women are very brave, and while we may not all agree with how people are treated in these institutions, it would be nice if people could remember these people as more than just faceless masses.

Parting Thoughts: I was very moved by this collection of short stories. I, like many others, think of convicted felons by their crimes and forget sometimes that they are real people who have faced real hardships (well, not all the time) and have made a big mistake in life. I am always amazed by the people that were the victims of terrible crimes and can tell the person that did it to them that they forgive them. Wally Lamb just made sure that people saw the people behind the crimes, and while this does not necessarily represent everyone convicted of a crime, it gives readers a chance to see some of the stories. I strongly recommend this book, not just for the powerful stories, but for the stories that show women working towards a better day.

1 comment:

  1. Great review, Kailana! I remember hearing a mention of this book a long while ago, but quickly forgot it until I read I Know This Much Is True. I definitely hope to read Couldn't Keep It to Myself one day. Another one for the wishlist. :-)


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