Poetry, Arts Program Gives A Voice To Women Incarcerated At Oklahoma Prisons

Poetic Justice: A group striving to help incarcerated women in Oklahoma to find their voices, and tell their stories.

Monday, November 13th 2023, 7:04 pm

By: News 9, Deanne Stein


Oklahoma has one of the highest rates of incarcerated women in the world. One group wants to change that by giving women behind bars a voice. For someone on the outside, it’s hard to imagine a life on the inside. Kara Chapman knows she spent five years behind bars.

“It was difficult,” she remembers. “I had drugs in my home, so I was charged with child neglect. You never know how strong you are until you have to be.”

Chapman found her strength through the bonds she made with other inmates and the program, Poetic Justice. “They listened and cared about our feelings, and it just made us feel valuable,” Chapman said. 

Poetic Justice offers writing and creative arts to incarcerated women. Ellen Stackable co-founded the program in Oklahoma in 2014 which is being highlighted in an exhibit at the Oklahoma City University Norick Art Center. “Writing is a really, really important tool to process trauma,” she said.

Stackable said volunteers create a safe space for women to tell their stories through poetry and other art forms. The nonprofit has served more than 4,000 women in prison and enlisted more than 600 volunteers to date. “To find out someone else struggled with the same thing you did but you were ashamed to tell anyone, it's really like unofficial group therapy,” Stackable said.

“It just really created this safe space where we could go once a week,” Chapman recalls. “We could express ourselves, process some of the things we've been through.”

The exhibit at OCU gives visitors a snapshot into the lives of the inmates through full-blown photographs, as the prisoners wanted to be portrayed, and not by their badge number or mug shot. “These are human beings of inestimable worth, they are courageous, they're funny and they want to be known for more than just the worst day of their life,” said Stackable. 

Chapman looks at her picture and the self-portrait she drew hung next to it. “Seeing that really shook me up because I remember sitting next to my rack, down on the concrete floor drawing that,” Chapman said. “So, seeing it now, knowing that I’m going to go home to my comfortable bed it just makes me thankful and grateful for how far I’ve come.”

Chapman says she is enrolled at OU and has reconnected with her children. She doesn’t know what career path she’ll take, but she knows it will involve helping women. She attributes her success to the program. “It empowered me, you know, it made me go out of the prison not feeling like a burden or hopeless but knowing that I have value, that my voice matters,” she said.

And for the women still stuck in prison, Chapman says she has faith they too, will not just survive on the outside but thrive.

The exhibit is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. now through November 30 at the OCU Norick Art Center, 1608 Northwest 26th Street in Oklahoma City.


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