April 25, 2019. Our program
featured Dr. Bonnie Winfield who operates an art-based support program for incarcerated women that is known as The Journey Home. Working out of the Expressive Art Studio and Maker Space on Sitgreaves Street in Easton, she partners with organizations such as Lafayette College, DeSales University, Moravian College, NCC, the Drug and Mental Health Court, CACLV, and the Arts Community of Easton.
Twelve years ago, Bonnie visited our local jail and discovered that the female inmates had almost no support. At best, they might have a Bible and AA. 70% of the inmates were non-violent and 75% of them had children. Bonnie developed a therapeutic program involving art therapy behind bars, restorative practices, neurobiology, compassionate listening, mindfulness, and bearing witness. Inmates with privileges attend sessions at the art studio. Bonnie takes her program into the jail four times a week to reach the rest. Many of the inmates are virtually stuck in prison. They can’t afford bail. They can’t get their case into court. Many return to prison quickly because they are released with little or no money and no prospects for jobs.
One art project involved making masks. The women discussed the various “masks” they have to wear in day-to-day life. The prison mask is a particularly serious one. Crying is not allowed. Those who cry are often medicated or punished by being sent to the “hole”. The hole is solitary confinement that can last 30-40 days. Expectant mothers in jail have even more problems. 43 states do not require prenatal exams. 41 states do not require prenatal nutrition. 49 states fail to report all incarcerated women’s pregnancies. Mothers with children are faced with the constant knowledge they are separated from their children.
Bonnie leads a project where mothers are asked to paint away their pain using baby wipes. The women in the program are asked to view their world in a different way. This can be a great hurdle to clear. 83% suffered or are suffering from some kind of addiction. 85% have suffered some form of abuse. All have experienced trauma. They have to learn to change how they react to surroundings. They need to learn a new way of being in the world. They do this by practicing mindfulness and forming new pathways in their way of thinking. Research has indicated that trauma-informed practices such as mindfulness-based yoga and meditation can retrain the brain to function in a more productive manner and improve the overall well- being of those involved in this programming.