When I was a little girl my dad worked as a chaplain at a women’s prison, and we were once given the opportunity to come and visit the prison and speak to the women. I remember feeling scared because I was young, but when we were surrounded by the women, I felt an air of peace come over me. The women were friendly, and all they wanted to do was share their stories.
Recently, I heard about an event called Pens to Pictures that was being shown at Mershon Auditorium. When I heard the event was showing films made by incarcerated women, I knew it was an event I needed to go to. It’s easy to forget about incarcerated people when you are not personally affected, so I find events like these important to get people thinking about the lives of people who are confined to the walls of a prison.
When thinking about those who fill a prison, you might think about people who are paying for crimes they committed. Chinonye Chukwu has a different view. She set out to share it by empowering incarcerated women to make films. Chukwu is a professor at Wright State University and partnered with women in Dayton Correctional Institution. She created Pens to Pictures, which is a “filmmaking collaborative that teaches and empowers incarcerated women to make their own short films, from script to screen” (http://www.chinonyechukwu.com/pens-to-pictures/).
During the film viewing, the audience was shown five incredible stories. The films forced us to see these women as people with stories rather than people behind bars. I was mesmerized because the stories were raw and expressive. I can only imagine how the women felt when seeing their scripts come to life on the screen.
While it is unknown whether these films line up precisely with the lives of the filmmakers, it is likely that they are in some way connected, and I believe this creative expression will induce healing. The combination of empowerment and healing is one of the most valuable causes one can dedicate time to. One of the films was centered around a woman addicted to heroine attempting to find help. Another film was about a woman who was raped repeatedly by her brother, who also suffered from sexual abuse as a child. The third film involved a woman who was struggling to take care of her three children. The fourth was about a woman trying to get a job, and the final film was about a woman who was wrongly convicted and found her way to freedom.
As I watched these films, I laughed, and I cried, and I empathized. While much of the content was heavy, the films were rich with life. This characteristic made me think about the lives behind the films.
These tales are about real women with real problems. They include hardship, but these hardships are happening everywhere, and exposure to these stories is important. When you look at someone who has committed a crime or been imprisoned, I want you to look at them as a person with a story. While many crimes are inexcusable and heartbreaking, it is important to recognize the humanity that prisoners possess.
This humanity exists in us all, and if we can focus on this humanity, there are ways to empower those in prison, like Chinonye Chukwu has done. She took what she knew how to do and shared it with women who are treated as lower-class citizens. I challenge you to share your skills with those who are less fortunate as Chukwu did. Interaction with those who seem unlike you will often result in their humanity growing larger in your eyes. Humans have the beauty of communication. Use this communication to empower those around you as you share what’s inside you.
Find out more about Pens to Pictures here: Pens to Pictures