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Women in prison talk about sensitive topics
Illustration by salim hanzaz on iStock

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At the beginning of my sentence, I was told that there are some discussions that are off-limits in prison. I decided to speak with people who live with me about these so-called “touchy subjects.” 

Below are excerpts, which have been edited for clarity, from my conversations with three women. The women asked to remain anonymous.


BW: I remember I got locked up, found out I was pregnant, had my baby in jail, and then lost my grandmother. So one day I went into my cell and I wrote my daughter a letter, telling her that I loved her and that I was sorry for what I was about to do and to please forgive me. I sat there thinking about how I was gonna take my life, and I worked out how I was gonna take the sheet to hang myself. 

While I was thinking, a girl I know happened to come by my cell. She said, “Hey, come here for a minute.” She said that she felt a sudden, urgent need to pray with me. I began to tell her what was going on. After she prayed for me, I felt so much better. 

I still have those moments. … When I feel that way, I think of my daughter.


AM: Death is a painful thing to talk about. It is hard enough to try to get over it, so you really don’t want to talk about it. This past January will be three years since my mother passed. I couldn’t even see her before she left. I hope that the rest of my family is getting over it, especially my half-sisters. Their father passed a couple of years before her. 

I remember the cookouts. Her birthday would sometimes fall on Memorial Day, so it was a double celebration. I myself can understand the pain and heartache of losing someone. I have lost my ex-husband, half-sisters, uncles, cousins and close friends. It never gets easier. It is hard to be able to mourn the loss. My heart breaks for anyone that goes through it.

Family support

SC: I am very glad I have it. If I didn’t have their support, I don’t know what I would do. I have seen what it does to people who don’t have it. If you don’t have support out there, then you will struggle here.

BW: When my friend first got here, she had a lot of help. For the first five years of her bid she was able to go to property, have plenty of phone time and max out when she went to the commissary. 

But then, a year ago, she lost her mother and everything changed. The family she has left are two brothers who are also locked up, a sister who has her own family, and another brother. They are barely able to take care of themselves, let alone her. They do what they can when they can, but it’s hard on all of them. As her friend, it’s hard watching her go through it. I do what I can to be there. But it’s not the same as her having her own family. 

I feel extremely blessed and thankful because that could be me one day. I have also lost loved ones during my time here, but thankfully I have the help of my child’s father to pick up the slack. 

As for myself, I have had it both ways. When I got here in 2015 I had money, then it ran out. If not for a job, there were years when I would have had nothing. Then over the last four years it has been up and down. So I know what it’s like to have and to not have. And it truly can be a struggle to watch others have, and you not be able to get anything. So I have also tried to help people when I have been able to and have been blessed to receive as well.

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.

Gwendolyn Burton-Green is a writer incarcerated in Virginia.