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Speaking out: Westfield State hosts reading for formerly incarcerated women

Speaking out

Westfield State hosts reading for formerly incarcerated women

WESTFIELD, Mass., March 7, 2016- As part of Westfield State University’s Women’s HerStory Month celebration, the university will host a reading from the women of “Voices from Inside,” a nonprofit that offers writing groups, performances, and public speaking opportunities for women in Western Massachusetts that have been incarcerated.  Free and open to the public, the reading will be held on Wednesday, March 9 from 2-3:30 p.m. in the Owl’s Nest.

For nearly 30 years, Westfield State has held events dedicated towards awareness and celebration of women’s rights and issues involving women globally. What started off as a week-long celebration organized around International Women’s Day (March 8th) is now a month-long tribute complete with guest speakers and film screenings. The month is organized by the department of Diversity/Inclusion and Student Activities alongside faculty and staff.

The event was coordinated by Elizabeth Stassinos, professor of ethnic and gender studies, who was introduced to “Voices from Inside” in 2006 while she volunteered her time at the Ludlow Prison facility teaching creative writing and poetry workshops.

Since then, Stassinos has held readings nearly every year on campus to introduce the campus and local community to the organization.

“‘Voices from Inside’ values the women as creative thinkers and writers,” Stassinos said. “It gives them a chance to communicate to themselves and others in a peaceful, supportive, and encouraging atmosphere in the prison and outside of the prison.”

Between five and ten formerly incarcerated women will share their creative work at Westfield State. The women’s work reflects on their lives, neighborhoods, and their experiences as Americans and as women. At the end of the reading, the women will speak about their life experiences and how “Voices from Inside” supported them in their work towards literacy and furthering their education.

Stassinos said the women provide a unique perceptive that must be heard before steps can be taken to decrease crime.

“People need to know who their neighbors are in prison and how helping them will help all of us decrease crime and encourage writing, literacy, and education,” Stassinos said. “People should not fear their neighbors who have made mistakes and committed crime or gotten caught up in the drug traffic.  People can change and literacy and education are the means to that change through programs like ‘Voices.’  ‘Voices’ needs community support as it helps us all.”

Following the reading, there will be a question and answer session which will allow audience members to ask the women about their experiences in prison as well as dealing with other hardships including poverty.

The Owl’s Nest is located in the Ely Campus Center. The event is co-sponsored by the Westfield State Departments of Diversity/Inclusion and Student Activities, English, Communication, and Ethnic and Gender Studies. For more information on Women’s HerStory Month, visit www.westfield.ma.edu/mcw.