Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health or suicidal thoughts, round-the-clock help is available through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Veterans Crisis Line and Military Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, and the Crisis Text Line by texting “hello” to 741741.

When I was a little girl in the second grade, I won a short story contest. 

The story was about my dog Andy. I knew then that I had a passion for writing. From that point forward, writing would be a part of my life forever.

I read my story to my dad, who praised me for my talent. I felt as happy as a little girl could, connected to a part of myself that I was only able to express through words. I also felt close to my dad because he was so very proud that I won.

As I grew older, I turned to poetry. I used words to take away the pain I suffered from neglect and abuse. I kept silent, except for my words bleeding out between baby blue lines, using every stroke of my pen to release the lumps of emotion stuck in my throat.

It did not matter to me who read my struggles of love and hate, or that I would tear my heart wide open in the hope that someone might understand. All that really mattered to me was being able to release the skeletons inside me.

I had long forgotten the praise of my dad and the value of a win. I was drowning in grief and living a life in silence when an opportunity arrived. I was able to publish a poem on called “Fear.” I was offered a trip to Hollywood, Calif., for a contest, but wasn’t able to attend. The experience reminded me that writing was something I always wanted to do.

Throughout life I continued to write, dropping lines in journals and jotting down my thoughts. I have written letters to my deceased parents, and I started writing an autobiography. But because I had been unable to keep what I had written, discouragement would settle in.

Still, I would write, putting all my negative thoughts down on paper. I had no one to talk to and suffered from a depression so dark that suicide always sat on the sidelines of my consciousness.

I have come to believe that, had I not learned to write long ago, I may have died. Words written and read gave me sustenance, enough peace of mind to live another day and not merely exist in a world of chaos and turmoil. As long as I had this outlet, I knew I would survive.

Soon I landed in prison. I found myself in a state of emergency, both mentally and emotionally. I could not fathom being secluded from what I knew. I did this to myself, I know, yet I felt so defeated, alienated and alone. So once again, I turned to the comfort of writing.

Thirteen years into my prison sentence, during a pandemic and in desperate need of rehabilitation, a packet of resources slid under my door. I came across the Prison Journalism Project. Reading an article piqued my interest. I again felt a renewed urge to write.

To freely write with no results is completely different than when someone actually takes interest in what is written. I wrote down my experience according to a prompt and sent it out to PJP. I did not think anything of it; I was just grateful to once again write. PJP notified me as a contact on my tablet and I felt a deep joy soothe my aching heart. I jumped for gratitude and even cried a little.

I felt like that little girl from long ago: proud, seen, heard and appreciated. I was validated. The impact writing again had on me was greater than that second-grade win; greater because although I was in a prison cell alone, I now had a voice.

Writing means freedom far beyond the walls I reside behind, a freedom within an imaginative heart and mind, something I have always dreamed of but never had the courage to really pursue.

It baffled me that, in a place that brings such loneliness, I could gain purpose with the flick of my wrist upon paper. It means a great deal to me that I can once again achieve a little girl’s dream, even in prison.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Jamie Rozelle Harrison is a writer incarcerated in California.