Reading and Writing Addiction was able to catch up with Avon Hart-Johnson, Author of African American Women with Incarcerated Mates: The Psychological and Social Impacts of Mass Imprisonment. We are excited to share this insightful interview today with our readers.
Tell us a little about yourself and DC Project Connect.
I am a university professor within the field of Human Services and Social work. I serve as one of two principle researchers for DC Project Connect, a nonprofit in the Washington, DC area. We have conducted domestic as well as international research on prison visitation for families. Our research appears in academic journals and university publications. In collaboration with the Executive Director, Geoffrey Johnson, and a host of volunteers, board of directors, and community partners, we achieve the mission of providing intervention for families affected by incarceration. We produce research publications, host psycho-educational groups, mentor female returned citizens, and advocate for social justice reform.
On a personal level, to stay grounded in the work, I facilitate a support group for women returning home from prison, entitled “Coffee Talk & Me time.” On a weekly basis, when not on travel, you can find me in the ‘safe circle’ having coffee and chatting about the matters of life and how they can reintegrate back into their families and communities.
When did you discover that you wanted to write a book and what is your favorite part of writing process?
I have always known that I am a writer. I believe that we each have at least one book in us. However, with me, I find that I have several percolating in my mind, just waiting for the right time to be birthed. For instance, I conceptualized a children’s book on grown-up timeout and children’s prison visitation but did not draft it. I held that book internally, until a woman returning home from prison told me how traumatized her child was during visit a prison visit. In essence, the child did not understand the process of security dogs, metal detectors, etc. I knew then I had to publish the book right away because other children would surely be suffering too.
My favorite part of the writing process is allowing the words to come alive and take meaning, shape, and form. Books become the mechanism that others can use to be transported into a world of experiences that may be similar or foreign to their own experiences. Writing is magic. It is a way to both inform but also tap into the humanity of others. It becomes and extension of myself whereby I can have a good conversation with many people who I may not meet or speak with personally. However, my words become a part of their journey and connection with me.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
I love self-help, motivational books, research methodology, and certainly books that expose the ills of mass incarceration. Here are a couple of my favorites:
What do you think has influenced your writing style the most?
I believe my writing is greatly influenced by my academic background, combined with my love for writing prose. When I was younger, I used to write poetry. I still have some of the old dusty documents and computer printouts that I never published. I am saving them for just the right time.
I can also say that I am deeply influenced by the love that I have for humanity. I have a passion and desire to ensure that vulnerable, disenfranchise, and marginalized people are given a voice.
Tell us about your latest release.
‘African American Women with Incarcerated Mates’ was written for people who want to understand this social phenomenon of mass incarceration’s collateral impacts on women of color. In this book readers will learn about how life can be interrupted by rude and often devastating crisis of a loved one going to prison. This book provides an explanation of the psychological trauma and the emotional toil this phenomenon takes on family and children. Yet, this book provides hope for recovery and returning back to a semblance of normalcy.
I want the world to have a conversation about how to help people affected to restore their lives. Most of us have heard that the United States is the world’s largest jailer. This problem of mass incarceration hurts families, communities, and ultimately, society. The impacts of mass incarceration has left incalculable emotional, psychological, and social damage on those impacted- including families.
As a society we must grapple with how to fix this failed experiment—mass incarceration. Those returning home from prison have had their lives placed on hold. The majority will come back and integrate into a world that has kept on moving. Technology, social trends, and even environmental changes take place in the absence of the incarcerated person. Often times the non-incarcerated woman assumes the role of support until some level of stabilization is achieved.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing this book?
My challenge was to balance and transform research material into a form that taps into the universal feelings of my readers. I wanted to provide context and background so that readers humanized and made connections with the 20 women who I document in the book. These women are more than research subjects. They are women who I sat with and listened to. I heard some of their most intimate stories of love, pain, tragedy, and overcoming the odds. I sought to help the reader engage and know these women. And further feel empowered to help women like them.
The second challenge was to honor the women’s strengths while exposing the truth of their vulnerabilities. In other words, these African American women had struggles and perils. However, I did not want them to be sensationalized and appear needy. I wanted to ensure that my words paid ultimate respect to their stories.
What do you want readers to gain from this book?
I want to raise the awareness about this issue of mass incarceration on women and families. I want readers to feel empowered to make social change in some way relative to their personal capacity to do so. I want my offered intervention and suggested discussions to serve as tools that range from family members to practitioners to support women and families.
Where can we learn more about DC Project Connect?
Mail correspondence to: 9103 Woodmore Centre #278, Lanham, MD 20706
The proceeds from this book are donated to DC Project Connect to support our interventions with families and women returning home from prison.
Do you have any advice for writers looking to get published?
If you are an aspiring writer, be diligent and as you write, not matter how technical or genre specific the topic may be, speak to your audience in a conversation. No one wants to feel as though the writer is not connecting. No matter what the topic, allow the reader to find themselves in the subject matter. There are universal feelings that transcend populations, such as love, pain, grief, hardship and resilience.
African American Women with Incarcerated Mates: The Psychological and Social Impacts of Mass Imprisonment is available at Amazon.com.