In her early years as a Providence police officer, Tabitha Glavin didn't think much about why women ended up in prison; her job was to put them there. But as she got older, she realized there was a back story that usually involved childhood troubles, drugs, and a slap in the face.
Her view of women prisoners changed — and so did her life. As co-producer of Any One of Us: Words from Women in Prison, a spoken-word performance scheduled for March 11 at Brown University, Glavin hopes to convey the message that women prisoners are not entirely to blame for their circumstances. "Everybody deserves a second chance,'' says Glavin, now retired from the force. "I truly believe that."
When people think of women in prison, images of the bug-eyed Florida serial killer Aileen Wuornos come to mind. But nothing could be further from the truth, says Glavin. Most women are behind bars for non-violent crimes such as drug offenses, prostitution, and fraud.
And Glavin says that in many cases physical or sexual abuse contributed to the lawlessness. That claim is supported by the graphic personal essays of women prisoners that will be read by volunteers in the Smith-Buonanno Hall at Brown. With titles like "That Bastard Cut Me" and "Bad Men," the stories express the fury and frustration of women behind bars and reveal how many were abused long before they landed in jail.
"You stabbed me with a metal nail file in my side because of the way I moved my hips," one woman writes. "Did I tell? No. I pushed my hanging flesh back in that wound and held you as you cried because you loved me. Ha! The funny thing is, I should've been crying."
Words is part of the Providence version of V-Day, a worldwide fest held in February and March to raise awareness about violence against women and girls and to provide a platform for women to share personal stories about abuse and violence. Proceeds from events benefit groups that help women, from shelters for battered women to food pantries.
The festival runs through March 14 with 14 events — showings of Eve Ensler's hit play, The Vagina Monologues, art exhibits, poetry readings, comedy skits, a men-only gathering, and, for those who want some pampering, Red Tent Day, where women can get a makeover for only $10.
"We've grown by leaps and bounds," says Nancy Rafi, festival organizer for the last three years. "I think the message is getting out that everyone can do something to end violence."
Although not as provocative as, say, Sex Trivia Night on March 4 at the Scurvy Dog, the most compelling event could be Words, the 90-minute production that came out of a decade of writing workshops that Ensler, V-Day founder, held in women's prisons throughout the country.
One woman writes about how the bloody cut over her eyebrow, the slappings, the broken bones — all inflicted by a man who was kind one minute, furious the next — left her so jumpy and hostile she was "a walking road rage."