Storytelling is the central theme of my academic work as a Religion major. I consider how the narratives we create give us a sense of identity, shape power dynamics, and imbue our perceived realities with meaning. On the most fundamental level, to me, narrative is a way of engaging with others. Because of my deep passion for storytelling and all of the ethical conundrums and practical challenges it entails, I was very excited to hear that oral history educator and publisher Voice of Witness (VOW) was willing to facilitate a workshop and a reading at Haverford.
The events took place earlier this spring, (on what seemed like the coldest weekend of the year!), through the generous support of the Student Arts Fund, the CPGC, and Collection Committee.
Despite the devastatingly frigid temperatures, a wonderful group of Tri-Co community members came to the Friday night reading.
VOW Narrator Ashley Jacobs told her story, as recorded in Inside This Place, Not of It: Narratives from Women’s Prisons,a collection of oral histories detailing the human rights abuses women experienced in the U.S. prison system. Ashley spoke about her experience of pregnancy while incarcerated, one that included a forced C-section and shackling during labor, two practices she is working to end. Ashley, along with VOW Managing Editor Luke Gerwe and Education Program Associate Claire Kiefer, shared their thoughts about the criminal justice and prison systems, about oral history, and about hope for change during the Q&A that followed the reading. One of the most impactful moments for me was when Ashley noted that somewhere, sometime, it won’t be raining. You just have to keep going until you locate that place, find that time.
The next morning, Claire, Luke, and Ashley led a hands-on workshop, where we considered how to hold space for people to share stories, how to ask open-ended questions, how to respond to others’ stories, and how to be responsible when we share those stories–skills not only for oral history collecting but for compassionate community building. Of the sort vital for a place as community value based as Haverford.
I was so grateful to have the opportunity to meet Ashley, Claire, and Luke, and bring them to campus–many, many thanks to the Student Arts Fund!