From the November-December 2019 issue of News & Letters
Oakland, Calif.—On Oct. 19 the organization A New Way of Life, a re-entry program for women rebuilding their lives after prison, presented their new project: Testif-I, a living library story-telling event aiming to change public dialogue on mass incarceration. Over lunch we sat around tables, and former prisoners told their stories. They encouraged questions and participation from others. After 20 minutes at one table, we moved onto another table, and another story.
One of the former prisoners we heard from was Katie Dixon. A young Black woman first arrested at age 11, after spending a total of eight years in prison she is now focused on building publicity for prisoners’ success stories. Lydia Lozano, a Mexican-American mother who found it almost impossible to find a job since she has a conviction on her record, now works as a peer parent advocate at A New Way of Life. London Croudy, a Black woman coerced into taking a plea deal for a crime she did not commit, did nine years in federal prison and is now a fellow at Legal Services for Prisoners with Children. There were others, including Terah Lawyer (see “Creating homes for ex-prisoners,” Sept.-Oct. N&L).
What shone through in every story was the profound change each of the former prisoners made in themselves. This society produces a lot of broken people. Prison aims to break them again, even more. Yet these women found their humanity in themselves in response to the de-humanization they experienced before and during prison. Now they are devoting their lives to helping others, one person, one story, at a time.