The story of a woman whose gift for finding purpose in life drives her to help others change their lives even as she struggles to accept and overcome her own past, born heroin addicted to a mother in prison. Her story proves we’re more than the sum of our parts, and there’s always a chance for redemption.
Sometimes, it takes a dive over the edge to find your center. Even Tough Girls Wear Tutus is about the courage and curiosity to create an authentic life with purpose and resilience, and what it takes to hold onto this courage.
Today Deborah tours women’s prisons to plant seeds of possibility and hope for others, and little by little, fulfilling her mission to change attitudes of secrecy and shame.
Her interview is here, Up Close and Personal:
Thank you, Mia, for your interest in my story and work. I’m honored you’re including me on your blog, especially because I live between several worlds with mixed Asian American one of my identities. I’m still finding out the mix.
Which turning point spun me into rebellion, I’m not sure. The first turning point might’ve entered my life before birth, when I sensed the insecurity of my birth circumstance, about to pop out into a prison.
One point of no return framed the early part of my life after I learned about my birth in prison from a letter I discovered buried in my mother’s dresser. I was twelve and from that day on I carried the secret, and the stigma, with a vengeance against the world.
2) You show remarkable fortitude and resiliency. Where does this come from? What traits can you attribute to your birth parents? And what to the parents who raised you?
I’ll never know for sure where nurture balances against my nature. How does anyone know this? There’s much I don’t know. I can say I have a higher threshold of risk than anyone in my family and I suspect this comes from my birthmother.
On the other hand, much of my make-up today as a creative, curious woman, most likely sprouted from my upbringing.
Maybe we’re all a nature/nurture combo, an age-old debate that will go on and on and cycle through the same question and back again to ask, “Which drives us the most, nature or nurture?”
About fortitude and resilience, what’s the choice? Either plow through a challenge, or not. I don’t know any other way but to push ahead. It’s not as easy for me as some people think but most of all, I’m not one to give up until by instinct I sense it’s time to move on, at which point say to myself, “I’ve done all I can, done my best.”
3) Was there an epiphany that caused you to start The unPrison Project or an “a ha” moment? What do you hope to accomplish? What do you need help with?
Thanks for this opportunity to shamelessly plug my nonprofit
. I’m thrilled about the future of The unPrison Project and what we can give back to incarcerated women and their children. Last year we received our 501c3 nonprofit status so all donations are now tax deductible.
My first return visits to my birthplace, the Alderson prison in West Virginia, inspired me to use what I was given in life to reach out and give back. The unPrison Project
works in four directions right now: 1) To educate people outside prison about the needs of women in prisons and their children; 2) To provide a Goals Journal for each woman in prison we reach custom printed so they can track their goals in education, parenting (if they have children,) drug and alcohol rehab counseling, and life skills development; and 3) To provide resources and motivation for women on the inside to pursue their education, and follow-through on rehab and mental health counseling; and 4) College scholarship foundation we’re establishing for high school daughters of women in prison, with the Alderson Prison as the pilot program.
The travel to reach prisons across the country, and workshop materials, all need funding. While some prisons contribute, their budgets don’t allow for the kind of support this work requires.
We need seed money for each of the four programs. If anyone’s moved to donate, please do so here.
4) Is there anything in your past that you regret or that you’d do over?
I lament some things, but not regret. I wish I’d been kinder to my mother, I wish I’d spoken up for myself more as a girl, a few other “I wish…” But in everything past, it’s gone and I don’t spend time focusing on what could have been. I’d drive myself crazy if I did this.
5) What lessons would you want to impart to young people including your own children?
My two daughters, ages 12 and 16, know three things from me, for sure. At least I hope so. Kindness, respect, and curiosity, these matter most, I believe, for all ages—to respect ourselves and respect others. Imagine if this were universal?
6) What are your goals and aspirations today?
Beyond writing, my goals and aspirations focus on The unPrison Project and reaching as many women in prisons as possible with a message of hope from someone they’ve never met with the kind of story and skills I bring, added to clear-cut outcomes about education and rehab for substance abuse, which is one main contributor to incarceration.
I’m working on a second memoir, and also a YA novel, and a collection of short stories. I yearn for more do-nothing time, preferably on a beach, cooked under the sun and barefoot in sand.
To contact Deborah, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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