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LIFE OUT LOUD

Life Out Loud is a trauma-informed storytelling program for women who are incarcerated at Muncy State Correctional Institute. This program creates a collaborative space where incarcerated women can safely explore personal stories in an intimate group setting. Participants reflect on, develop, and craft several stories over a semester through group work and homework. Teaching Artist Jennifer Hwozdek modeled this program after “The Moth,” a storytelling nonprofit that celebrates the art and craft of telling personal, true stories—live, with no notes. Over the course of 16 weeks, the group of women, all of whom are serving long or life sentences, learn and practice techniques on how to transform personal anecdotes into compelling stories with purpose.

 

Hwozdek describes how “the group naturally evolves into a tight-knit collective of women, who learn to listen deeply, give feedback generously, and bravely reveal their truths not only to each other, but to themselves. These women come together to cheer each storyteller on to breathe through her pain, discover the moments of humor in life’s absurdities, and to find her voice. Everyone, myself included, leaves this class changed.”

 

 

artwork created by Life Out Loud students

 

The course culminates with a performance in front of a women-only audience of 20-plus staff members (agreed upon by the students), which includes the superintendent, deputy superintendent, counselors, and therapists.

 

Life Out Loud is necessarily trauma-informed and participants often choose to explore issues in their storytelling such as addiction, sexual and domestic abuse, child abuse, living in violent communities, witnessing acts of violence, teen pregnancy, giving up children, separation from family, mental health struggles, being sick and possibly dying in prison, coercion by men and threats of violence leading to terrible consequences, and the violence and trauma of incarceration.

 

Because the program is in-depth and semester-long, participants have time to explore their experiences, build trust, heal through creative process, and ultimately to witness themselves and each other as people with valued voices and creative agency.

 

Ridgelines piloted this program, which is designed and taught by Ridgelines co-director and Teaching Artist Jennifer Hwozdek, in the autumn of 2022. Since that time, the program has grown exponentially. In 2024, SCI Muncy incorporated Life Out Loud into the curriculum for the House of Hope, a residency substance abuse program within the prison for victims of domestic and sexual violence. TA Hwozdek is excited that participants will now be living together in a protected space where they will be able to continue conversations and practice their stories with each other outside the classroom. The House of Hope counselors have also succeeded in arranging for past Life Out Loud students to return as mentors, giving them the opportunity to perform their stories for their peers and to help coach the new students. SCI Muncy is also supporting the program with the purchases of books and journals for the students.

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Participant Reflections

“I signed up for this class because so much of my life is secret and I hoped this class would give me the chance to say things out loud and it did!”

“This class gave me the strength to deal with feelings I was afraid of and to find out I am not alone.”

“Jenny treated me like more than a human being – she treated me like a woman—an equal.”

“To future attendees: This class is a great learning experience that will help you work with personal issues and grow as a person. It’s a MUST DO!  Thank you, Jenny.”

“I believe that it is critically important for incarcerated people like myself to learn how to tell our stories. So many stories are told about us, which makes it easy to buy into and parrot these narratives. We need to reclaim our stories, take back our power to actualize ourselves; we can become the architects of our lives.”

 

 

 

“To future attendees: This experience can be life changing if you allow yourself to break free from your comfort zone, allow yourself to sit in the moment, learn everything you can from everyone in the room, and not take yourself too seriously. This class will help you believe that you have value and that your story needs to be told because it is cathartic and beneficial for the listeners to enjoy your evolution.”

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