Case Study: Women’s Prison

Initial Feedback: 

I was delighted by the feeling of welcome, when I entered our gathering space.  The room was already set up in a circle of chairs with participants smiling from their seats, offering warm hellos.  We jumped right into the workshop, which was a variation of the standard Healing Waters House Party.  The workshop was adjusted to accommodate the large groups of attendants, as a typical House Party has a maximum attendance of 15.  We took time in the beginning to breathe together and to bring our good energy and intention into the circle.

In preparing our group to perform, we played a few important theater based warm up activities.   We  listened to easy Cuban sound of Omara Portuondo as we “Covered the Space.”  We let the music guide our bodies around the room, then after freezing in place we imagined a scene in our heads that the movement inspired. Next we moved “Across the Circle”, powerfully saying our names as we locked eyes with a person across the circle, then moved to take that person’s space.  The activities connected easily to our conversation on maintaining a safe space for creative play, highlighting what would be and would not be welcome in our space.

Soon it was time for reading.  The four main characters of  “Why Won’t She Leave?”were divided into three parts, giving us a total of 12 readers for the performance.  All the other workshop  participants were responsible for reciting the part of  The Chorus.  It was powerful to hear a room full of women reciting the lines…

“She is so pretty and so smart.  She can have any man she wants.  Why Won’t She Leave?”

The reading was awesome.  The actor/participants quickly found the rhythm of the piece and fell effortlessly  into character, ones they’d only been introduced to moments before.  We used a combination of large group processing and mini-sessions, so that  participants could discuss the feelings that came up however they were most comfortable.    We closed with a panel of experts from the group, modelling for the rest of us how we might provide social support for a woman in our life having a story similar to that of  the main character.  Participant feedback from the workshop is listed below.

Number in Attendance: 60 incarcerated women, participating in a trauma and addiction recovery

Local and National Resources Provided:  Resources provided by staff during the groups regular sessions.

A Sample of Participant Feedback:

 How did the performance make you feel?

“It made me feel like I wasn’t the only woman that had ever experienced a relationship like that.”

“It brought back a lot of memories. It also brought back a lot of feelings.  It made me realize any type of abuse is not acceptable.”

“that a lot of people go thru what I’ve been thru”

“It reminded me that I have gone through this exact same thing/I was going thru this w/ my ex-boyfriend.  My mom went thru this exact same thing so okay I went to do what my mom went thru w/ my Dad.”

“This made me feel angry.  I see some similarities in my own life and relationships.”

“sad because domestic violence is such a common occurrence.”

“Like I was living my own life over again.  My Boyfriend treated me like the man that was in this story.  But it was only when we were getting high.  When we weren’t getting high he was a good man.


What insight has this performance of “Why Won’t She Leave?” given you about Domestic Violence?

“I need to be more aware of signs of abuse.  Not all abusers are poor, alcoholics or addicts.”

“That it can be physical, emotional, sexual, mental, verbal, all of these are domestic violence.”

“That it can happen to anybody.”

“That we let someone continually abuse us because we feel worthless – less than.”

“Many times parents w/abusive relationships have kids that will grow up to be in abusive relationships.”

“That mental abuse is more long term affecting than physical.”

“No matter what kind of abuse it is. Verbal, mental, sexual, or physical you should just leave.  It never gets better it only gets worse.”

In your opinion, why won’t she leave?

“She is too used to him, she’s comfortable like addiction.”

“Her father talked to his mother like that, so she thought it was normal.  She thinks this is a good, natural, healthy relationship.”

“because of the security he was giving her.  and he talk the talk and didn’t walk the walk.”

“I was scared of being alone.  Afraid that she might not ever have true love.  But pain and hurt isn’t love.”

“Because it becomes “normal” and leaving brings out the fear of the unknown”


In your opinion, what kind of support should be provided by friends, family, community, employers, church etc. that would make it easier and safer to leave?

“They shouldn’t give up on trying to help.  Tell her she deserves better.  She deserves to be loved,taken care of, and be there for her.”

“I stayed at a battered woman’s shelter for 3 months with my kids after we left.  It was hard but very rewarding and it made us excited about our new life.  Never went back.”

“They should show her that she does have an out.  She doesn’t have to stay, and that they love her and want better things for her.”

“Having people you can talk to about problems we may be having and having a safe place we can go where they may not know or expect us to go.”

“They should let them know that they love them.  These people need to be lifted up.  They need to know that they can do better.  They need to be made to feel good about themselves.”

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