Things seem so different now that I am writing and speaking and working as Taylar Nuevelle. While incarcerated and since I have been home I assist justice-involved women. I have moved my project from a dream to action! Please join me as we grow the Who Speaks for Me? Project. https://www.gofundme.com/who-speaks-for-me-project
Panel: Sharing Our Stories to Reclaim Our Lives. November 2016 (photo courtesy of Gabriela Bulisova)
When I went to prison, I had very little knowledge of trauma. I knew that I had survived physical, emotional, and sexual violence growing-up and when I was in high school I went into foster care.
However, no one spoke of “trauma” in terms of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Everyone just saw me as this person who was beating the odds. Despite the fact that I almost died twice while in high schools because of suicide attempts.
Survivors of childhood abuse often find abusers in their adult life and this is what I did. Through a series of events and choices I ended up doing 4.5 years. However, my story is not the story that moved me to create the Who Speaks for Me? Project . While incarcerated I was able to learn the stories of the women incarcerated with me as I helped them with their legal cases for post-conviction relief, navigating the prison grievance process and/or gaining visitation with their school age children through court ordered visitation.
What I learned from reading over the transcripts and talking to the women was that 85% of them had been sexually abused as little girls and/or raped as adults. I discovered that most of them had suffered physical violence during childhood and had also been victims of domestic violence. I started to keep track of the stories and realized that we were survivors.
During my incarceration I was put on suicide watch many times and the last six months of my incarceration I spent three months on and off on suicide watch. There was no consistent or appropriate mental health treatment. One day as I lay on the mattress on the floor in the cold (so cold my finger tips turned blue) suicide watch room, I wrapped the quilted blanket around the quilted gowns (as this is all one wears on suicide watch) and looked up at the ceiling and whispered, “Who Speaks for Me?” That was my last stint on suicide watch.
I was returned to my unit and I came up with a business plan for a non-profit called the Who Speaks for Me? Project. The goal of the project is to educate the public, criminal justice system, and politicians about what I call the, “Trauma-to-Prison Pipeline for Females” in order to build a Trauma Informed Justice System.
I have started this project. In October of 2016 I was invited to be a guest speaker at the DC Jail for women during Domestic Violence Awareness Month. After my talk, I was cleared to start a program for the women at the jail, “Sharing Our Stories to Reclaim Our Lives: Unpacking the Journey on the Trauma-to-Prison Pipeline for Females” is a reading writing/program. It will also be offered in the community for women in the halfway house and justice-involved women on supervised release with the probation department.
We will also hold community forum panels in which the justice-involved women in the community will share their stories before and during incarceration and their process of reentry. Volunteers with the Who Speaks for Me? Project helped with such a panel in November of 2016 at the Social Innovation Festival and it was educational and healing. The audience wanted to know when there would be another panel and the women who participated want to participate in more panels in other areas of the city.
We are trying to raise money to apply for our 501(c)(3) status, brand our logo and to purchase the books that will be used in the program, the journals, and notepads and pens as well as money to buy travel passes for the justice-involved women who participate in the program in the community.
Our board is together and made up of former justice-involved females, advocates who work with women in prison, and allies of dismantling the trauma-to-prison pipeline for females. We have our Employment Identification Number, logo, and our website is being built by a volunteer. With your help we can began to build a trauma informed justices system through education and encourage treatment not jails when there is a clear case of trauma; as well as change the system of incarceration to provide Trauma Informed Care and Approaches for justice-involved females.
I survived and since I have been home I have been able to share my story through writing and public speaking. Just as importantly, I have been able to continue to assist women who are incarcerated and once they return home. I have been humbled by people who have stepped up to volunteer with the program and move this project from a dream I had of making a difference into action. Once we have our non-profit status, we will be able to apply for funding and grow the program to include creating model programs around the country and offering Trauma Informed Care and Approach trainings to those who work in the criminal and family courts: judges, defense attorneys, prosecutors and social workers and psychologist that work with justice-involved-women.
I went to prison and I did not return back home better, but I am not bitter. I continue to work on my mental health issues through therapy that focuses on recovery from trauma. Its been two years and I have not given up and I want to bring the issues of justice-involved women to the for front of our conversations and advocacy for criminal justice reform and reduce recidivism and mass incarceration.
Join the Who Speaks for Me? Project and watch what we can do together.
Peace be with you,
Who Speaks for Me? Project