Roseville writing group for women in prison leads to new book


Joan Moses compiled and edited stories written by the women she works with at Residential Re-Entry Center of Roseville and published them in a book called “Breaking the Cycle, Writings from Women in Prison.” Sitting at her dining room table in her New Brighton home, she reads an excerpt.

Every Wednesday evening, a group of women gather in Roseville to write. This is a different kind of writers’ group, though, one in which grammar, spelling, structure and even coherency aren’t the main focus. 

Instead, each woman writes for herself. Their purpose in writing is the journey, not necessarily the destination. But according to their teacher, it’s a journey that helps them process their lives — past, present and future.

Some of their writings have recently landed in a book that their teacher, New Brighton resident and writer Joan Moses, edited and compiled.

Moses, 71, has worked with women at Residential Re-Entry Center of Roseville, run by Volunteers of America, since June 2015. Her new book, “Breaking the Cycle, Writings by Women in Prison,” features creative works by 43 of the women she has worked with while volunteering over the years.

 

Working with women

The women — incarcerated and working towards being released back into the community — visit Moses weekly. 

“Sometimes it’s as many as 14, and other times it’s just one,” Moses says in an interview, noting that getting just one participant is rare, “but still fruitful.”

Moses says the value of the weekly writers’ workshop is apparent in how the women respond to it. 

Tracy Harris, Residential Re-Entry’s social service coordinator, agrees.

“Whether they go to the group or not is completely up to them,” she says. “But if they go, they always seem to end up loving it.”

As women arrive at Residential Re-Entry, the center recommends Moses’ program to the women, who are all finishing out their sentences, received for mostly felony-level convictions that range from DWIs to burglary to attempted murder, Harris says. “They’re all trying to put their lives back in order.”

Moses explains the class helps them to process what has happened in their lives, and what might lie before them.

“The group gives each of the women a voice,” Moses says. “And, though they don’t have to, they often choose to share that voice with the group.” 

The introspective writing is a healthy processing method, Moses says, but she adds it’s the sharing of those voices “that helps them see that they’re not alone.”

“They’ve all been through some type of trauma or another,” she says, adding that these traumatic experiences have often contributed to them committing crimes and landing behind bars. “I think sharing their stories gives them some power back.” 

 

Challenges

Moses’ book, “Breaking the Cycle,” features poems and stories the women were open and excited to share with others. 

Moses prompted the women with questions that ranged in topic from past family life to prison experiences to what their dreams are for the future. 

“I think these stories will help people see these women as human, not offenders,” Harris says of the book. “There’s way more to them than the crimes they’ve committed. And they’re on a difficult journey now, trying to re-establish themselves in society.”

Harris explains that landing jobs, finding housing and community, gaining back custody of children and even just getting back their driver’s licenses are all up-hill battles these women face coming out of prison.

Moses says another hope of hers — through this book — “is that readers will see just how easy and important it is to volunteer and listen to those who need listening to.” 

Moses, who, among other volunteer opportunities, spends one evening a week with women at Residential Re-Entry, notes she receives just as much from them as they do from her.

Moses’ husband, Terry, a longtime Minneapolis police officer, died from pancreatic cancer in 2012. After a long period of caregiving, she says she had to figure out what she wanted to do with her life after his passing.

“I had to almost reinvent myself,” she says. It was her background in writing, which includes a degree in journalism, that led her to eventually establish the writing group for Re-Entry residents.

Though Moses says the group began so that the woman could simply vent, process and voice their stories, “it turned into a personal ministry for me.”

 

‘See these women as human’

Moses, who’s Maronite Catholic and “almost always wears a cross” necklace, says the woman feel open to sharing their own beliefs with her and fellow participants. 

“They’re not all Christians,” she says, “but we can be open about the faith and beliefs that keep us all going.”

As for Harris, who’s worked with these women in Roseville on a daily basis for three years, she says she’s glad to see the work that Moses is doing. 

“I love the new book,” she says. “It’s heartbreaking but enlightening. It’s deep with emotion, but also has funny moments. It really allows people to see these women as human.”

“Breaking the Cycle” can be found at Amazon.com and through other booksellers. Moses, the author of several books, including “Roseville Girl,” is currently working on a follow-up book that will feature more women from the Residential Re-Entry Center of Roseville. 

 

If you go

There will be a book launch party for Joan Moses’ new anthology, “Breaking the Cycle, Writings by Women in Prison,” on Sunday, April 30, from noon to 3 p.m., at Saint Maron Maronite Church, located at 602 University Ave. in Northeast Minneapolis. The Taste of Lebanon fundraiser is also happening at the church that day. 

In addition to books by Moses, other authors will be displaying their work as well. One of those is Moses’ daughter, Susanna Moses, also a published author, who will be selling and signing copies of “Monica’s Silent World,” a story about her daughter — and Moses’ granddaughter — who has autism, and “Nectar,” a book about bullying. 

 

Jesse Poole can be reached at jpoole@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7815. 

 

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