When a Florida women’s rape shelter set out to help victims of sexual assault, they didn’t expect to find them behind bars.
A Sarasota, Florida based agency, Safe Place and Rape Crisis Center (SPARCC), set out to provide safe housing, counseling and support groups for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. What they found was many of their referrals were coming from the local jails. Many of their incarcerated clients followed a familiar pattern:
- They were molested in childhood
- Due to unresolved trauma and fear, the victim became angry
- The victim often turned to drugs and alcohol to lessen the pain of the trauma
- Drug use led to jail
- They began a cycle of acting out, abusing drugs, and getting arrested
To help the women break this cycle, SPARCC offers a “Writing to Heal” class in the Sarasota County jail to help them process their trauma. The class is taught by Louise Burderle, owner and publisher of West Coast Woman, a monthly magazine that showcases successful women of Sarasota, Florida. Louise got involved with SPARCC because she was interested in women’s issues. Louise gives the women in her class prompts and metaphors taken from Dr. Pennebaker’s book “Writing to Heal, a guided journal for recovering from trauma & emotional upheaval.” Dr. Pennebaker believes the simple act of expressing thoughts and feelings on paper about emotionally challenging experiences will speed recovery and improve mental and physical health. While journaling about traumatic events can make someone sad or weepy for a short time, overall there is the long term benefit of feeling happier and less negative than before the writing. Louise tries to get the inmates to focus on the present because the future is too overwhelming for many of them. Some of the challenges Louise faces is students nodding off or not being able to sit still. These difficulties in focusing are often the side effects of living with unresolved childhood trauma. The healing comes slowly, but it comes.
Louise shares her belief that while many people think addiction is a moral failing, the Surgeon General’s Report On Addiction (Nov 2016) states it is a chronic, relapsing brain disease, not unlike other physical diseases like diabetes and heart disease. With diabetes and heart disease, like addiction, lifestyle choices play a significant role in successful remission and recovery. Louise tries to ease the inmates’ painful past by helping them to pour their pain out onto paper each week.
A Reach Out Recovery By: Pam Carver