Breaking Free While Locked Up


Students enrolled in International Honors 253: Gender, Sexuality and Culture at Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) were invited by Felice Davis, Associate Superintendent of Programs, into the Therapeutic Community (TC) at the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) in Gig Harbor, WA to continue a collaboration between WCCW and PLU that had begun in 2016. The TC is a recovery program within the facility focused on providing participants with structure, support, and skills to come to terms with the factors and decisions that led to their addiction and incarceration and to develop healthy habits and behaviors for a successful recovery. 

[Transcript of TC Mission Statement--Serenity: A caring community provides unity in which together as a sisterhood we develop skills for long-lasting strength and recovery. Serenity: Support, empathy, respect, encourage, nurture, integrity, trust yourself. Serenity: The quality or state of being calm, quiet and at peace.]

The hope in connecting these two groups was to utilize the students’ access to technology and research to share the stories of the women working towards recovery in TC and to provide contextual information about the current drug crisis and women’s incarceration. In this way, both groups collectively created a platform that provides a multifaceted portrait of these issues that centers the voices of the women experiencing them firsthand. 

[Transcript of TC Philosophy: Guided by a strong moral compass, we live life grounded in recovery cultivated by our principles to nurture positive values. We look to the power within ourselves for direction. Without letting our past define our future, we're moving, we're moving forward change in our recovery. Together as a sisterhood, we strive to achieve serenity by living with integrity, honesty, willingness, humility, and compassion. With these beliefs, we'll be confident in our everyday living.]

Five students entered the facility three times and participated in writing workshops facilitated by Seattle-based performance artist and educator Taryn Collis alongside the women in TC. While these students worked with the women to write their stories, record them reading their pieces, and design the presentation of their pages, the other PLU students conducted research and composed  articles about topics like addiction, trauma-informed care, and mental illness as well as designed the layout of the website that would feature the women’s work. Additionally, two students interviewed Felice Davis to learn more about the history of the TC and life in a corrections facility in general.

Each woman's author page contains a transcript of the pieces she wrote as well as images of the original, handwritten documents and audio of her reading the pieces (in most cases). The lotus flower and color maroon are identifying markers of the TC, and the students worked to integrate these symbols throughout the site to represent the community's identity.

The hope is that reading these women's stories and hearing them firsthand--alongside the pieces in "Understanding Women's Incarceration" and the interview with the Associate Superintendent of Programs--will provide you with a more complex, nuanced, and human portrait of women working towards recovery while incarcerated.

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