I’ve got a big family and lots of friends, so every year I send tons of holiday greetings. But two weeks ago, I spent most of the day writing cards to people I’ve never met—and these messages felt as special as any that I’ve ever written. That’s because they were for some of the most marginalized people in society: incarcerated survivors of rape.
I wrote these cards as part of campaign called Words of Hope, which is run by Just Detention International. Every year, JDI delivers thousands of Words of Hope holiday greetings to survivors in prisons nationwide.
You might be wondering why I’m so sure that a message from you will make difference to incarcerated survivors. The reason is that I’ve been in their shoes.
In 2012, I was raped by a corrections officer while serving time in a Georgia prison. The assaults shattered my sense of self-worth. I felt frightened, ashamed, and alone. It wasn’t just that no one working at the prison cared—it seemed like all of society had turned its back on me. It was as if being convicted of a crime made it okay for me to be raped.
Today, I know that there are, in fact, many people who feel compassion for survivors. As a member of JDI’s Survivor Council, I’ve seen how this organization has built a large and growing number of supporters behind it—people who believe that rape is not part of the penalty.
Out of sight should not mean out of mind – and heart. But the tragedy for women in prison is that it often does.
We at Ms. want women in prison to know they are seen and valued. That’s why we started the Ms. magazine Prison and Domestic Violence Shelter Program. Because domestic violence shelters can be almost as isolating as prisons – and often lack libraries or any reading material, just as many prisons do – we include women in those shelters too.
We hope to keep growing this meaningful program—but we need your help. Together, let’s show women in prisons and domestic violence shelters that they have not been forgotten.
At the same time, I also know that there are many people out there who care about prisoner rape, but feel powerless to help individual survivors—or just feel overwhelmed by the topic. That’s understandable. This is a difficult subject to think about. It can be extremely triggering—believe me, I know. But as a prisoner rape survivor, I’m telling you that a simple holiday message will do wonders.
Just ask Dwight Hines.
He’s a fellow member of JDI’s Survivor Council, and is currently incarcerated in Texas. Dwight has been receiving Words of Hope cards since 2011. And he’s held on to every single one. “When I feel low, I re-read them,” he told JDI. “Anytime I’m a little depressed, I reach my hand into my JDI folder and pull out a random card.”
I love writing holiday cards. There’s something heartwarming about their simplicity; you can pack so much feeling in such a small space. It’s almost magical. Write a warm message to a survivor today—bringing them some solace and peace that is hard to find behind bars.