Leopard Skin

survival means finding ways to live despite our confinement

This story is written in the form of a book proposal!

While working at York Correctional Institute, a maximum-security women’s prison in Connecticut, I realized the power of my own story in its inspirational aspects and its far-reaching relatability. Many of the women there assumed that, because I am from an affluent neighborhood and have white skin, I have been sheltered from all manner of mishap and misfortune. Similarly, I had my own prejudices and expectations of them, especially before meeting them (like many others I had only a superficial and media-driven concept of “The Criminal”). Confusion occurred; human beings are constantly putting each other in boxes to try to understand why circumstances unfold as they do. In many cases, the places you are born and the family you are born into drastically impacts your fate and life opportunities, setting your course but erecting an invisible boundary between those who are like you, and those who are not. However, the contrary is also true; no matter how functional and financially stable my family may have been, I have been dealt challenging hurdles in my first 21 years that made it possible for me to relate to the prisoners on a more direct and human level.
My journals document an array of experiences including: suicidal adolescent friends, my brother coming out, child molestation, transferring colleges, and interesting human rights work such as working with children with parents in prison. Particular attention is paid to cyber bullying and bullying amongst girls, my rare autoimmune disease, and my tumultuous relationship with my bipolar mother, who runs a non-profit for pregnant teens.

Most of the issues I’ve faced in my life don’t discriminate between race, class or economic opportunity. The autoimmune disease, Generalized Subcutaneous Morphea, that struck my health with no known cause or cure at the age of 12 is perhaps the leading example of this. My disease was so rare that there is little evidence that any of the medications I experimented with or expert doctors I visited helped much. The condition limited range of motion in all of my joints and significantly discolored my skin. Despite being an articulate child who published articles in the town newspaper in the fifth grade, I kept all of my emotions regarding this illness to myself, confined to the pages of my journals. This book, Leopard Skin, will share my insecurities as my healthy body transformed into a stiff, discolored figure and my loving parents crushed me with insistent expectation, only trying to heal their daughter while demanding that I live a normal, teenage life.

My target audience would mainly be those children and teens who can relate to my struggles and find comfort in knowing that they are not alone, that they too can cope. Children are more able to listen to guidance from a young person who has been in their position than an adult even if they are an expert in their field. For those adults (especially parents and psychologists), my stories provide insight into young minds that can be difficult to understand from more aged perspectives. Both young people and adults are always eager to hear stories that clarify the human condition, providing a better glimpse into the self and a way to a more fulfilling and productive life. In this regard, my stories are especially interesting. We often forget that childhood lays the foundation for our more mature metamorphoses, and reading through these pages is not unlike looking at ancient history; it permits an understanding of our origins and how they continue to underlie more current iterations of self. I believe that story telling, and in particular, my stories, can be deeply influential. As author and teacher Donald Murrary states: “the more personal, the more individual you become, the more universally you will be read." Sharing my hardships and journey can and will impact others as they find themselves in similar circumstances. Like many of the female prisoners I have met, my voice has been silenced by disease, cruelty, and abuse, though through perseverance and courage I have found the strength to tell my story, to overcome voicelessness. We are all threatened by personal prisons, with walls concrete or imagined, survival means finding ways to live despite our confinement. It is my hope that through reaching out to others, I can show others how to turn setbacks into fresh beginnings.

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