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A Woman and Her Fight for Self Actualization

Season 6 has been so impactful. Episode 3 continues in that vein with another dynamic guest Sandra Brown. Ms. Brown is a Senior Advisor/Writer in Residence for the Women's Justice Institute in Chicago. She has an MA in Humanities from California State University-Dominguez Hills and is a doctoral student enrolled in

California Coast University's Ed.D in Organizational Leadership program. She also served 22 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections as an incarcerated survivor. the first incarcerated woman in Illinois history to pledge and gain acceptance into the Gamma Pi Delta Honor Society, earn an academic Master's degree, and be accepted into an academic doctoral program. Brown is a two-time recipient of the Davis-Putter Scholarship and the Marilyn Buck Award.


Brown is also the author of Odyssey in Progress. The book highlights Brown's experiences pre involvement with the carceral system, during her time inside, and speaks about the collective issues of incarceration. Browns book is available through most online retailers.

Brown believes that women in prison are often an afterthought which perpetuates myths and leads to further inequities.


Since the 1980s, the rate of female incarceration has catapulted to over 700%.

Women are often left out of prison reform discussions. Women's voices and stories are missing from the narrative because prison reform is a male-dominated issue. There is no consideration of the pathways that lead to women becoming involved with the carceral system. Brown urges us to consider the social constructs contributing to individuals making incredibly difficult decisions to survive or provide. Women, especially those who are justice impacted or incarcerated, are treated differently than men.

The harms done to women in prisons replicate the harms that are done to women outside right down to the part that our narratives are missing.

Brown shared about her tireless pursuit to obtain her education while incarcerated and the obstacles along the way. She highlighted three things that aided in her resilience the thought of reuniting with her son, the care and encouragement from a woman, and Langston Hughes's poem Dreams


Hold fast to dreams For if dreams die Life is a broken-winged bird That cannot fly.


Hold fast to dreams For when dreams go Life is a barren field Frozen with snow



Some factors that contribute to difficulty obtaining education while incarcerated

  1. Access to technology. Women desiring higher education first must locate a school that will allow a student to receive and turn in assignments and exams via traditional mail.

  2. Money. Women must have funds to cover the cost of classes as well as funds for materials. Ms. Brown had to save seven months to buy a typewriter to complete her assignments.

  3. Time & Space. Women with longer sentences are put on waitlists that can take many years to receive approval. In addition, individuals who are incarcerated do not have autonomy over their time. They also share space with other individuals. Both of which impact availability to study and add length to program completion. Women rarely have access to quiet, uninterrupted space to focus on their studies.

Despite all these factors, Ms. Brown earned a Master's degree and acceptance into an Honor's society. Because of her first-hand experience, she is currently in the process of launching the Women's Justice Initiative Independent Scholars Program to aid in mitigating the aforementioned struggles.


Ways to support women impacted by the carceral system

  • VOTE! Utilize your access to the polls. Examine your legislators voting record regarding rights and access for individuals who are incarcerated.

  • Use your voice! Talk to your legislator about SB2260.

    • SB2260 is an Illinois bill however, you can still discuss with your local legislators something similar in our state

  • Donate books and materials.

  • Donate money. Women who are incarcerated earn approximately $10-$20 a month.

  • Donate to Women's Justice Initiative

  • Purchase Odyssey in Progress by Sandra Brown


Ms. Brown invites justice-impacted women in the Chicagoland area to a Healing Circle at the Women's Justice Institute on March 4. The healing circle assists women in understanding the pathways that led them inside the carceral system and connects them to resources that will help them in their journey in the free community. Copies of Odyssey in Progress with also be available there. Reach out to the Women's Justice Institute for more information.


You can watch the replay of Ms. Brown's episode here.

Ready for another thought-provoking and engaging episode. Join us for the next episode on Saturday, March 4, at 10:00 am CST live on our Facebook page.

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