In 1998, Wally Lamb began teaching writing to female convicts at Connecticut's York Correctional Institute. It was not for lack of a résumé; he was already an acclaimed novelist (I Know This Much Is True; She's Come Undone) and had been teaching high school for a quarter century. York was something different. After adjusting to his new constituency, Lamb realized that his students had disarming, often frightening stories to tell. In 2003, he published an anthology of these testimonies, the PEN/Newman's Own First Amendment Award-winning Couldn't Keep It to Myself. This follow-up collection is just as bracing and profound.
Novelist Lamb's (I Know This Much Is True) second collection of writing by the students in his writing workshop at the maximum-security York Correctional Institution in Connecticut, after Couldn't Keep It to Myself(2003), also focuses on the inspiring and raw emotions of women sharing the good and bad memories that shaped them. The 20 women whose work is featured here-18 inmates and two of Lamb's cofacilitators-show that writing is not just a way of capturing their most private thoughts and gripping emotions (e.g., hope, despair, courage), but also a powerful tool to foster hope and healing. They write from the heart in works ranging from poems to essays to short stories; each vignette is more compelling than the one before it. Highly recommended for academic and public libraries.
The second accomplished collection of writings from women incarcerated in Connecticut's York Correctional Institution, edited again by bestselling novelist Lamb (Couldn't Keep It to Myself: Testimonies from Our Imprisoned Sisters, 2003, etc.). One would have thought the first volume, with its probing examinations of lives run amok, would have convinced prison authorities of the value of a writing program in which prisoners focus and take account. But the prison bureaucracy tried to shut it down, writes an incredulous and furious Lamb, and they confiscated the prisoners' material. That particular draconian administration was replaced with a more enlightened group, Lamb reports, one that allowed for the rehabilitative value of writing. These works radiate what Lamb saw as the program's critical mission: to give the women wings "to hover above the confounding maze of their lives, and from that perspective . . . to see the patterns and dead ends of their past, and a way out." Some of the stories are rueful, others bitter, but all bite, even-perhaps especially-when they are gentle. None are self-pitying, but none shy away from speaking directly to the gross cruelties so often inflicted on their early years or young marriages. Each story, no matter how grim or gritty, shows polish, and the women display a wide array of emotions: unbridled anger, innocence, hope, resigned acceptance. While a few of the stories speak of angels who touched the women's lives, most display open wounds that are continuing to be healed by the cathartic power of words. Writing as an act of self-realization and liberation and, not incidentally, an indictment of the penal system.