Couldn't Keep It to Myself: Testimonies from Our Imprisoned Sisters

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9780060534295: Couldn't Keep It to Myself: Testimonies from Our Imprisoned Sisters

What I hope is that people reading this book will bear in mind that we are human beings first, inmates second.
--Bonnie Foreshaw

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

For the past several years, Lamb has taught writing to a group of women prisoners at York Correctional Institution. At first mistrustful of Lamb, one another, and the writing process, over time these students let down their guard, picked up their pens, and discovered their voices. 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 stories of hope, humor, and triumph in the face of despair. Having used writing as a tool to unlock their creativity and begin the process of healing, these amazing writers have left victimhood behind.

In his powerful introduction, Lamb describes the incredible journey of expression and self-awareness the women took through their writings and shares how they challenged him as a teacher and as a fellow author. In "Hair Chronicles," Tabatha Rowley tells her life history through her past hairstyles -- outer signals to the world each time she reinvented herself and eventually came to prize her own self-worth. Brenda Medina admits in "Hell, and How I got Here" that she continued to rebel in prison until her parents' abiding love made her realize that her misbehavior was hurting them and herself deeply. In "Faith, Power, and Pants," Bonnie Foreshaw describes how faith has carried her through trials in life and in prison and has allowed her to understand her past actions, to look toward the future, and to believe that she will once again taste home cooking. Couldn't Keep It to Myself is a true testament to the process of finding oneself and working toward a better day.

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Review:

Any book that can give voice to the voiceless should be celebrated. No one feels this more strongly than Wally Lamb, editor of Couldn't Keep It to Myself, a collection of stories by 11 women imprisoned in the York Correctional Institution in Connecticut. Teacher and novelist Lamb was invited to head a writing workshop at York Correctional Institution in 1999. His somewhat reluctant acceptance soon turned into steadfast advocacy once the women in his charge began to tell their stories. Lamb maintains that there are things we need to know about prison and prisoners: "There are misconceptions to be abandoned, biases to be dropped." However, as heartfelt as his appeal is, nothing speaks more convincingly in this book than the stories themselves.

Those collected here are disturbing and horrific. They reveal, often in graphic detail, the worst kind of abuse: incest, drug addiction, spousal violence, parental neglect, or incompetence. They're also testimony to what social workers and health care professionals have confirmed for years--that those who populate our prisons are often victims first themselves. Thus, the telling of these stories serves as a form of therapy. They are also sad accounts of the brutalities many suffer, yet few discuss: "One day I figured out a dying little girl lived inside of me, so I threw her a lifeline in the form of paper and pen." Considering the degradation the contributors have experienced both in and outside prison, the courage, candor, and honesty with which they speak truly make these stories, as difficult as they are to read, "victories against voicelessness--miracles in print." --Silvana Tropea

About the Author:

Wally Lamb is the author of four previous novels, including the New York Times and national bestseller The Hour I First Believed and Wishin' and Hopin', a bestselling novella. His first two works of fiction, She's Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True, were both number-one New York Times bestsellers and Oprah's Book Club selections. He lives in Connecticut with his wife, Christine. The Lambs are the parents of three sons.

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