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Prison song

By Susan Llewelyn Leach / July 5, 2001



For the women in prison at MCI-Framingham, their predicament could sometimes be distilled down to one primary cause.

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"They were victims of their own bad choices," says Jean Trounstine.

And that's a sentence that could be as confining as time spent behind bars.

But Ms. Trounstine knows how to appeal it. The humanities professor who taught literature and drama at the women's prison in Framingham, Mass., encouraged the inmates in her small class to grapple with what was, in the end, perhaps the real imprisonment for them - a lack of independence of thought, a lack of confidence to wrestle with tough issues.

"If my students tackled Shakespeare, a writer they thought was beyond reach," Trounstine writes in the prologue to her book, "Shakespeare Behind Bars," "they would also be learning to take on what was most difficult in life."

Teaching the arts to the incarcerated might seem a luxury when the basic hurdles of life have proved challenge enough. But nurturing the freedom to think, even within the confines of a correctional facility, has in Trounstine's experience pulled creativity, resilience, and strength out of seemingly blunted lives.

Her program's philosophy is not new. But those she has taught have proved its truth: "Art has the power to redeem lives."

Elizabeth Lund interviews Trounstine about her experiences and recent book (page 13).

"For many of the women I encountered," Trounstine writes, "education offered hope; and drama freedom."

The freedom to change their perspective, the basis of their thinking. And the freedom to hear their own unsung lives.

Comments? E-mail: Ideas@csps.com.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor