From Wed May 12 10:15:12 2004
Date: Tue, 11 May 2004 01:29:25 -0500 (CDT)
From: Shannon Walton <>
Subject: [PRISONACT] 60 Minutes reports on retaliation against CT women
Article: 179842
To: undisclosed-recipients: ;

‘Couldn't Keep It To Myself’

CBS News, 9 May 2004

Couldn't Keep It To Myself is an anthology of stories written by female inmates at Connecticut's only maximum-security prison for women.

But the story of how this critically acclaimed book came to be, and what happened to the women who wrote it, is as interesting as the book itself.

The women weren't profiting from their crimes. They didn't write about them. Instead, they wrote about their lives.

And they did it so well that just a few weeks ago, the PEN literary organization gave one of the imprisoned writers its most prestigious award. But what's truly amazing is the state of Connecticut's reaction, both to the publication itself, and to the award. Correspondent Steve Kroft reports. Couldn't Keep It To Myself hit bookstores 16 months ago. It was praised by the critics, and enjoyed a modest commercial success, selling about 27,000 copies.

The 10 inmates who wrote it had all committed serious crimes. Bonnie Foreshaw is serving 45 years without parole for first-degree murder; Michelle Jessamy, 20 years for manslaughter; and Carolyn Adams, 5 years for embezzlement.

But every one of them has a story, a story that never would have been told if not for best-selling author Wally Lamb, who wrote, She's Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True.

Five years ago, Lamb agreed to volunteer at the York Correctional Institution in Niantic, Conn., after a rash of suicides and cutbacks in educational and rehabilitative services. Lamb's weekly writing workshop quickly became one of the prison's few success stories.

What happened is that they began to see that if they wrote, sooner or later, they would get to the tough stuff, the stuff that they needed to write about, says Lamb.

Not only did Lamb teach them a valuable skill, he encouraged the inmates to write about their most personal experiences—things they never told anyone, let alone put down on paper.

60 Minutes wanted to talk to some inmates who were taking part in the program, but the prison doesn't allow on-camera interviews. So we tracked down three former inmates who had been in the writing program before being released from prison: Robin Cullen, Tabatha Rowley and Nancy Whitely.

Whitely served time for credit-card fraud, Rowley for assault and Cullen for a DUI crash that killed her girlfriend.

What was the York Correctional Institute like?

It looks nice, you know? But you're at the mercy of guards who treat you however they feel like at that moment, says Whitely. In prison you can lay there. And it's all right with them. If you just lay there. So if you want to do anything positive, if you want to learn or change or grow, you have to fight to do it.

But the writing program was worth fighting for, providing one of the few opportunities for growth and rehabilitation.

What I saw was transformation. I saw women that just came in damaged, broken, says Cullen. And they just started to open up and bloom into beautiful flowers. Brand new people.

I'm not a therapist. But I could see that there was therapeutic value in the writing, says Lamb. People's body language began to change. People's level of articulation. After a few years, Lamb was so impressed with the women's progress, he read one of the stories to Judith Regan, his editor at Harper Collins.

And by the end of this piece, she had tears in her eyes. And she said to me, ‘Maybe we could do a book,’ says Lamb.

The former inmates, however, say they never thought they would end up being published writers.

We talked about, like, doing a book. And we were picturing this little paperback thing stapled or with one of those spirally binders, says Cullen.

But this was the real deal. Harper Collins bought the book for $75,000, to be split among the contributors. After all was said and done, each of the women would receive $5,600 dollars when they were released from prison.

Lamb made sure that prison and state officials were notified about the book deal, hoping they would embrace this unlikely success story. But he didn't hear a word, until a few days before the books reached the stores.

Instead of embracing the women for their accomplishment, the state of Connecticut decided to go after them with a vengeance....