Monologues for Healing, from the Women Who Lived Them

Prison Stories

“I ran like she told me to do. A neighbor man grabbed me up and carried me across the street to his porch where I watched our house burning, burning. The roof fell in on my grandma and my brother and sisters. That’s the night I lost everything except my mama.”

~Beatrice F

“Prison Stories” is a creative writing and performance program. Women who are serving time in Shelby County Jail share their stories with each other, knowing that a script will be written, and a performance staged for multiple audiences. ~Elaine Blanchard.

These are their stories.

Read the full story behind Prison Stories here.

WARNING: The following first-person stories may have been written anonymously, but they are true stories, not works of fiction. Some passages contain difficult subject matter, including abuse, drug use, violence, strong language. Some of these stories may be disturbing for some readers. Names have been changed to protect their identities.


In chairs or on the floor, the women sit around in a circle. The Teacher sits left of center. She speaks without emotion.


Tell us something about Childhood. 

Ida D:

I remember the café my grandmother ran. After school, I would go to the café. I’d walk through the door and folks would look up from their plate or their glass. “Hey Café Baby!” I would laugh and holler “Hey! Everybody!” Some of the men in the café would give me dollar bills. My grandmother would say, “You got homework?” And I always did. My grandmother helped me with my homework. When we got it all finished, she made a cheeseburger or grilled chicken sandwich for me. Folks in the café were eating, drinking, playing cards, dancing, playing on the machines and gambling. I washed dishes and felt proud to have a job. I would be in the kitchen with my hands in the sink, watching the grown folks. They got more interesting as they drank and got tipsy. I liked watching people at my grandmother’s café. It was like a big family.

Ida looks to her right, to Allison.

Allison S:

My grandmother believed in me. She said I was going to be a real nurse someday – if I went to school. School was the only way to get somewhere that mattered. “If you don’t go to school, you’ll go somewhere, and likely not somewhere you want to be.” That’s what my grandmother used to say!

Allison looks to her right. And so it continues.

Camille M:

I remember being a kid and playing with my cousins in Orange Mound. We played in the rain and loved it! After the rain we put mud in pie plates and decorated the pies with green leaves.

Mia U:

My granddaddy took me fishing for the first time when I was six years old. All that water scared me. I hadn’t ever been around a lake, so I clung to my Granddaddy’s leg and cried. He picked me up and hugged me close. He said, “Granddaddy’s got you, Baby Girl.” Finally, I settled down and we sat on the bank side by side. Granddaddy put worms on the hooks and we hung our poles in the water. We caught some fish and that was exciting! We took them home in a bucket. Granddaddy cleaned them and cooked them too. We sat at the table and ate our fish, grinning at each other. Granddaddy died when I was twenty. I miss him dearly.

Beatrice F:

I’m a grandma’s girl; always have been. I slept with my grandma. My brother and sisters slept in the back bedroom, all together. For some reason, I was grandma’s favorite. She took me places, told folks, “This my grandbaby!” And how she grinned, when she looked at me. One night the house caught on fire. I still remember that night like it was yesterday. My grandma opened the window, picked me up and put me outside. “Run!” she screamed. Then she turned around and ran. I didn’t know what was going on, but I ran like she told me to do. A neighbor man grabbed me up and carried me across the street to his porch where I watched our house burning, burning.  My house burnt down. The roof fell in on my grandma and my brother and sisters. That’s the night I lost everything except my mama. She showed up before the firefighters left. The firefighters and ambulance drivers were holding my mama in the front yard. 

She was screaming, “My babies! My babies!” 

Uh-huh. My grandma woke up in the night, lifted me up and saved my life. I’m a grandma’s girl; always have been.

Angela S:

I started drinking beer when I was five years old. We had a baby sitter, our cousin, still a kid herself. My cousin thought it was cute to see us drinking beer. We started school, my brother and I, and it wasn’t long before we got labeled as the “bad kids.”  We had a code of honor; neither one of us would tell on the other.  

I remember one time we found our mother’s weed and thought it was our lucky day!  Another time we found a bag of cocaine and snorted the whole thing. Stayed up for days! It felt good. All I’ve ever known is getting high. 

It’s a family tradition with us.

Lena D:

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” I shall not want. I wonder what that’s like, not to want? I want so much. I am overwhelmed by all the things I want. I want to be free right now, free from this endless cycle of addiction and incarceration. It’s like my life is on a hamster wheel. I’m running round and round in the same circle. I sure hope I get off the wheel this time. I’m sick of being an inmate. I want to live my own life. I want to like myself. And I want to stop letting myself down. 

WARNING: The following first-person stories may have been written anonymously, but they are true stories, not works of fiction. Some passages contain difficult subject matter, including abuse, drug use, violence, strong language. Some of these stories may be disturbing for some readers. Names have been changed to protect their identities.


Tell us something about Life.

Linda H:

We were all living in Section Eight housing, getting by on what we could beg, borrow or steal. None of us had a job. Few low-level drug dealers in the family, men who couldn’t be found when the kids needed things. We couldn’t depend on having anything or anybody– other than a hard time. 

My younger sister was the first one to have the idea and the first one in our family to go audition as a stripper. She went out to Valentines on Lamar. She wanted us to come along but I stood back and watched her sachet out the front door looking sexy and cute in her hot pink Victoria’s Secret lingerie. 

“You go first! We’ll see how it works for you, girl!” 

So, my little sister tells me all about it later. How she walked into the club and found it crowded with men at 6:00 in the evening. Drinking, smoking, sitting around looking for the right girl to make their fantasy a reality. 

My little sister took her cute self to the office where the manager told her the rules of the stage and floor: No touching. Never take your top off. Never expose your genitalia. Always wear a garter. My little sister did the job well and she came home flashing $300.00 that night!

One month later I was ready to make some money too. Went to Pure Passion, a Black American Club. Popular place. So, I get my hair, fingers and toes done. I was nervous about all this, so I stopped at the liquor store for Crown Royal. Already had my blunts. Wasn’t the dancing that made me nervous. I always have been a good dancer. It was the idea of taking my clothes off in front of men for money that had my stomach going crazy. I got loaded before I walked through the door.

Big bouncer type meets me. The place is dark and Bouncer Man leads me to an office. I saw the two poles on the well-lit stage. There were VIP rooms off to the side. Places for private dances. Shower area beyond that.  Bouncer Man introduced me to the owner of the club and he had me take my clothes off. 

“Turn around,” Owner Man said. He looked me over. 

I felt shy, but I knew I had a fine ass on me. 

“Can you dance? Can you sing?” 

Tasty. That’s the name he gave me that night and it stuck. The house mother hired me on the spot. Fireworks exploded in every direction and in all colors that night. And for the next four years I danced, I sang, I kept the rules and made money. I would do it all over again if I could.

Diana H:

Christmas Eve of 2006 I went to the store and bought decorations, so my kids could enjoy them. We put the tree up. It was flocked, a white tree, like it was covered with snow.  Kids went off to bed, all happy. I wrapped their toys and put them in my room under the bed. 

Everything was perfect. I was pregnant. 

My baby daddy came home about midnight. I was on the sofa watching TV when he asked me for money. I told him, “I don’t have any money.” He went crazy looking for money all around the house. “Bitch! Where you put the money?” I just looked at him. What was I going to do, spit money out my mouth for him?

Then he went outside and came back in with a gun in his pants. I could see it clearly bulging there in his pocket. “Bitch! I’ll ask you one more time. Where the money?” I asked him, “What is wrong with you?” And that’s when he flipped the tree over. It crashed and shattered to the floor. The lights went out. I said, “Get out of my house!” He put the gun against my cheek. Said, “Bitch! You give me some money or I am going to kill you now!” I went in my pocket and pulled the money out, threw it at him.  He picked it up and left the house. I couldn’t do anything but cry. I pulled myself together. Put the tree back up and tried to make it look good as new. The kids got up hours later and I tried to act like nothing had happened. It was Christmas. I wanted things to be bright and good for the kids. 


Tell us something about Education in Sex. 

Barbara G:

I got pregnant, the first time, when I was twelve years old. I had no idea what was happening to me and wasn’t anybody I could ask. My next-door neighbor was having sex with me in the afternoons before my mother came home from work. He told me something bad would happen to our family if I said anything about what we were doing. I got pregnant the second time when I was thirteen. I got pregnant the third time when I was fifteen. When that third baby was born, I went on and dropped out of school. Had to. That’s when my mother looked at me hard and asked, “What’s going on around here? Where are these babies coming from?” I was scared but I told her what was happening. She slapped my face and said, “Girl! Don’t you know how to lock that door?!”


Tell us something about being in Jail. 

Jane F:

My children came to see me here in jail. My ten-year-old son put a finger to his lips and I stopped chattering on about this and that. He looked me in the eye and said, “Mom, promise me you won’t steal again. Tell me you’re through with all that.” I started crying. It reminded me of my own childhood, when I was ten years old and my parents weren’t available for me. Dad was in prison and Mom was lost to her addiction. I realized, looking into my son’s face, that I was putting my children through the same pain I had hated for myself.  So, I promised. Right here in jail. I promised my son. “I won’t ever steal again.”

Roberta H:

Even though I don’t ever feel like eating in this place, I eat all the time. I eat at meal time, every bite that’s served. I spend all the money my family puts on my books- buying commissary snacks: chips, candy and cookies. I constantly put food in my mouth. It’s not good. I know that. My family stares at me in disbelief on visiting day. I have gained so much weight in jail. My skin is puffy and broken out. I eat even though I am not hungry at all. It is what I do to pass the time in here. No exercise program here, nothing other than lifting my hand up to my mouth, over and over again.

Kira L:

Sunday is special, even in this hell-hole. Some of us have visitors on Sunday and it is the only day of the week when we get real food. Most days we get packaged horse feed or pressed chemicals on white bread. Anything cheap will do for prisoners. But on Sunday we get chicken. It’s real chicken minus the squawk. The boxes of chicken get delivered to the prison off a truck and the men carry the boxes inside. Printed on the boxes clear as day it says:



I asked one of the officers about that. “Hey! Do you think there’s anything wrong with our Sunday chicken? Makes me worry if it can’t be served nowhere else but prison.”

The officer shook his head and brushed me off. “It don’t matter. It’s frozen.” I could see he did not share my worry.  But I could also see that he never sits down and eats with us.


Tell us something about Survival. 

Clarice L:

Other folks might not have survived all we’ve been through. Makes me wonder what survival is all about. I wonder why God has kept me here and alive? I was tired and hungry. I’d been working one trick after another nonstop for a full 24 hours without food. I had no money, so I just decided to rob the next trick. I was on Summer Avenue and I got in a truck with this guy. Before I could get around to robbing him, he wrapped the seat belt around my neck. I was struggling for air when he reached in the back and pulled out a tire iron. He smashed both sides of my skull and knocked every tooth out of my head. He raped me while I was out.

A female police officer saved my life when she found my body and called 911. She told me they did CPR on me, right there on the street and brought the breath of life back into me. They had to resuscitate me a second time after we got to the hospital. I was lying in a hospital bed for months. Then came rehab; I had to learn to walk and talk all over again. They released me from the hospital with wires in place to hold my jaw together. I used to cut those wires so I could give blow jobs on the street. It was the only way I could get money. I’ve got a metal plate in my head now, an artificial jaw bone and a plastic windpipe. I look around this dirty jail and I wonder why I am still alive.


Tell us something about Future Plans.

Kerry G:

My hands come together in front of me, praying hands. I focus on them. And I ask God to keep me from coming back to this place. My mother is in the hospital now. And I am in here. This past Saturday, my nephew visited, and he told me my mother is having surgery. I need to get out of this place and stay out. I want to support my mother. Nobody will have to drive out here and tell me she is in the hospital because I will be the person sitting by her side. My hands are together like this—in prayer.

 — THE END —

Republished for StoryBoard Memphis online edition, courtesy Elaine Blanchard.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.