I.G.N.I.T.E. program encourages Genesee County inmates to heal through storytelling

FLINT, Michigan — Freedom is a state of mind. I learned that through six ladies who happen to be inmates at the Genesee County Jail. These women opted into the writing program 'Healing Through Your Story' underneath the I.G.N.I.T.E. platform which originated in Flint and was created by Sheriff Christopher R. Swanson. I.G.N.I.T.E. is an acronym for 'Inmate Growth Naturally [and] Intentionally Through Education.'

Launched on September 8, 2020, correctional facilities across the nation have adopted this model. Since its inception, this particular jail has seen a 90% reduction in violence within the facility.

After being recognized by the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA), Harvard University, Brown University, and the University of Michigan, researchers have come in and completed an 18-month study of I.G.N.I.T.E. and how it affects the culture in our town and in our jail. The findings of the study were recently released on Harvard Law's website.

“Some of the most advanced, creative people I’ve ever met in my life have been in jail,” said Jason Gould, Major of Operations at the Genesee County Sheriff's Office. “So if you channel that, and make different decisions, it helps us all. That, in a nutshell, is what I.G.N.I.T.E. is.”

According to Gould, the Univesity of Michigan-Flint came to the Genesee County Jail and requested to host a social working class. Six students from UofM and six inmates were brought together to conduct an in-person training class facilitated by Professor Todd Womack.
Jason Gould.
This prompted the 'Healing Through Your Story' program, developed by Roshanda "Shani" Womack, where six incarcerated women came together to share their stories.

The program harnesses the benefits of storytelling to help participants gain new perspectives and develop empathy, understanding, and a deeper sense of connection and shared humanity. It was imperative for all parties involved that a healing educational piece was incorporated.

I met six triumphant women who happened to be incarcerated. We thoroughly discussed how  I.G.N.I.T.E., but more specifically, how 'Healing Through Your Story' has positively impacted their lives.

Because of their extensive soul-searching within the program, it made it easier for them to become vulnerable despite the formidable apprehension we place on ourselves when strangers are present. K. Monae, Jenna Grace, Madison Dennis, Crystal B, Courtney Alyce, and Jureya’ Hanifa are the names of the women I met.

They were gracious enough to let me into their world and only wanted one thing in return which was to publish their work. Throughout this 10-week program, these women have written journal entries, short stories, and poems.

These women still have dreams and it is evident that both I.G.N.I.T.E. and 'Healing Through Your Story' have revived hope to achieve their goals. Though I couldn’t include their complete pieces, I have attached an excerpt of their work.

'I hope that I can still make this unit one day. But for now, it lays in wait, in my head. Maybe one day it will be made and given to my son’s children. Tyler was very excited about getting these things. The room did get painted, but we never got to make the unit. This is the hope of a mother to do something special for her special child.'
- Crystal B. | “A Project for a Special Kid”

'The need for speed made me realize even though life is moving fast…slow down. Take time and enjoy life with family, having fun. You never know when it’s gonna be taken away. Since that day, I lost my dad, Okie, and my uncle Mac, too. I would love to have another family trip like that.'
- Jureya’ Hanifa | “Need For Speed”

'1200 minutes just me and my beautiful baby girl. Enjoying the life I created, with the weight of knowing, it would soon be gone.' 

All the fighting and all the joy… 

Just for it all to be gone in 1 single moment. 
The moment they took my whole world from my arms, 
Like that 1 moment never meant a thing.'
- Jenna Grace | “With pain comes strength”

'I’ve had time to think, I love myself enough not to care what nobody think, I’m finally free...
The tears have stopped.
Trauma in transition…'
- K. Monae | “Trauma in transition”

'All along, all these things she sought from him were freely given by Him.
He cared for her. 
He loved her. 
He protected her. 
He was faithfully Him and present every day.
All she had to do was accept Him.' 
- Courtney Alyce | “Him, Him”

'She grew up being the black sheep of the family. Summer had to grow up fast, leading her to leave home at a very young age. Summer always felt alone, and never had the love she wanted or deserved. So she felt the need to find love somewhere else, leading her down the wrong path. To the wrong ways of love. But she never knew what true love was, so what she got, is what she took. Not even realizing she deserved and was worth so much more.'
- Madyson Dennis | “Without a doubt”

Jenna, with a heavy heart, wants her family to know that she appreciates them for their unyielding support when it comes to taking care of her baby girl, Angel. Courtney wants her dad to know that she’s alright. Crystal wants her children to know that no matter what the circumstances are, they are loved. K. Monoe, Jureya’ Hanifa, and Madyson want their families to read this article and smile and know that they are on their minds.

As these words left the lips of these women, the air became thick and everyone’s eyes were heavy. Through and through, their chins remained held up, and were still able to laugh when moments were funny and showed tenacity and strength.

Through this program, they have rediscovered the light within them and allowed it to guide them to a higher state of mind. Though these women are incarcerated and longing for their release, they have a newfound freedom through the healing properties of their own words. Even if they don’t pursue a career in writing, each one of them plans to continue to write in a healthy way to be released from their frustration, agony, and sorrows.

The ladies didn’t want to be photographed. They would rather see a piece of their work as they read this article.

For more information on I.G.N.I.T.E., visit the Genesee County Sheriff's Office website and find it on Facebook. If you are seeking a partnership with 'Healing Through Your Story' or want to support its participants by publishing their work, contact Roshanda “Shani” Womack. The Genesee County Jail's 27th I.G.N.I.T.E. graduation happens on Tuesday, May 7, 2024, at 10 a.m. 
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