Canadian prisons offer healing for incarcerated mothers through writing

By Jesse Vasquez

Crafts groups and writing sessions help incarcerated mothers in Canadian prisons cope with separation and understand their life experiences, according to research by Magali Henry, a Masters student at Concordia University Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Nine incarcerated mothers in a weaving class shared their experiences with Henry for the study.

“The findings of this research indicate that exploring their experience through creative means allowed these mothers to explore their sense of self, to connect to their strengths and to use the weaving process to challenge themselves in a safe way,” Henry said.

Many of the women who participated in the studies share similar backgrounds: low income, low education levels, and drug addiction, according to Henry.

Many also battle with borderline personality, post-traumatic stress syndrome, depression and anxiety.

“When a woman goes to prison, her relationship to her children is a central emotional focus,” according to research (K. Boudin, 2008) cited by Henry. In other research (K. Celinska & J. Siegel, 2010; K.J. Ferraro & A.M. Moe, 2003), “Motherhood appears to be a source of confidence, to provide a sense of worth and a positive self-image for incarcerated mothers.”

Children are the most important motivating factor for incarcerated mothers in their personal growth and self-responsibility, Henry said, citing L. Giroux & S. Frigon (2011).

The Continuité Famille Auprès des Détenues (CFAD), in Quebec, allows mothers to live with their children in residential units for a period of time to help them sustain their ties, according to the article.

The studies show that participating mothers showed a preoccupation with their children in activity group sessions.

“Weaving helped some of these mothers make sense of their imprisonment experience in relation to their personal history,” according to the report.

For women with histories of severe trauma and abuse, art therapy is a way of venting their feelings in a safe way.

The weaving project’s challenge “seemed to give them a sense of adequacy and of ability to accomplish something difficult,” said the report. “This feeling of empowerment bolstered their self-esteem and confidence in their capacity to face the emotionally challenging experience of imprisonment.”

The report concluded that the group experience was “tantamount to a journey into ‘self-discovery and healing,’” which empowered the mothers to make sense of their personal history and experience.

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