Photo by Dominique Rouge
This week, women across America performed The Vagina Monologues, a play that gives voice to several women’s accounts of sexual trauma. Since 1996, the play has sought to spark awareness for new narratives of female sexuality and empowerment.
A particularly notable performance took place at Haley House Bakery and Cafe, in lower Roxbury.
The proceeds of the play went to New Beginnings Reentry Service, Massachusetts’ only non-profit specifically designed to service formerly incarcerated women. Stacey Borden, the founder of New Beginnings, performed in the play and explained its relevance.
“February is the month of domestic violence awareness, and what we’re saying is that is why the majority of why women are incarcerated—unmet trauma, be it from domestic violence, sexual abuse, neglect, rape or incest,” Borden said.
Borden served time in jail herself, and began to reflect on her own past traumas.
“I think a seed gets planted somewhere. Through my process of addiction, not really knowing that I was suffering from mental health issues because of my trauma—my sex abuse and my rape at 18—something only happened in my last three years of prison.”
Seeking treatment in prison, Borden found a commonality of sexual violence in female inmates’ pasts.
“I learned how to express myself. I learned how to channel that anger and that resentment and that pain. And once I started doing that, I realized, there are other women just like me. We’re in here for the same thing. Because we’re suffering, and we’ve been mistreated, and we’ve mistreated ourselves.”
Over 68 percent of women that leave jail in America return after five years.
Borden sees a reason. “One day it clicked: there was nothing there for us out there. People are so busy talking about institutionalization, but if a person has nothing to go home to, then they’ll become institutionalized—that is more comfortable. Some women leave jail and lose their children. Some lose their families. Parents pass on while people are in jail.”
She made a promise to former, fellow inmates in 2010 to design a program to stop women from returning to jail.
Today, ten years later, with a Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling, a license as a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor, and a membership in the National Association for Addiction Professionals, Borden plans to take New Beginnings to the next step. Her organization is raising money to purchase a housing space for women leaving prison.
She noted at the end of the performance of The Vagina Monologues that people that think raising awareness for sexual violence is important should also be aware of the way their dollars may go toward labor in prisons. Companies like Whole Foods and Victoria’s Secret’s supply chains can be traced back to the use of underpaid workers in jail.
This, notes Borden, is a problem considering the role of trauma in many incarcerated female’s lives.
“My purpose, my passion, is to try to bring a woman to her consciousness, so she doesn’t have to go back in there, and participate in something that is bigger than us.”