Couldn’t Keep It to Myself: Wally Lamb and the Women of York Correctional Institution (Testimonies from our Imprisoned Sisters)

In a stunning work of insight and hope, New York Times bestselling author Wally Lamb once again reveals his unmatched talent for finding humanity in the lost and lonely and celebrates the transforming power of the written word.

For several years, Lamb has taught writing to a group of women prisoners at York Correctional Institution in Connecticut. In this unforgettable collection, the women of York describe in their own words how they were imprisoned by abuse, rejection, and their own self-destructive impulses long before they entered the criminal justice system. Yet these are powerful stories of hope and healing, told by writers who have left victimhood behind.

In his moving introduction, Lamb describes the incredible journey of expression and self-awareness the women took through their writing and shares how they challenged him as a teacher and as a fellow author. Couldn’t Keep It to Myself is a true testament to the process of finding oneself and working toward a better day.

Any book that can give voice to the voiceless should be celebrated. No one feels this more strongly than Wally Lamb, editor of Couldn’t Keep It to Myself, a collection of stories by 11 women imprisoned in the York Correctional Institution in Connecticut. Teacher and novelist Lamb was invited to head a writing workshop at York Correctional Institution in 1999. His somewhat reluctant acceptance soon turned into steadfast advocacy once the women in his charge began to tell their stories. Lamb maintains that there are things we need to know about prison and prisoners: “There are misconceptions to be abandoned, biases to be dropped.” However, as heartfelt as his appeal is, nothing speaks more convincingly in this book than the stories themselves.

Those collected here are disturbing and horrific. They reveal, often in graphic detail, the worst kind of abuse: incest, drug addiction, spousal violence, parental neglect, or incompetence. They’re also testimony to what social workers and health care professionals have confirmed for years–that those who populate our prisons are often victims first themselves. Thus, the telling of these stories serves as a form of therapy. They are also sad accounts of the brutalities many suffer, yet few discuss: “One day I figured out a dying little girl lived inside of me, so I threw her a lifeline in the form of paper and pen.” Considering the degradation the contributors have experienced both in and outside prison, the courage, candor, and honesty with which they speak truly make these stories, as difficult as they are to read, “victories against voicelessness–miracles in print.” –Silvana Tropea

Nanci Arvizu, Writing and Reviews Editor

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3 Comments

  1. You Will be Totally Caught Up in these Incredible Stories As a reader interested in women’s issues I expected to like this book, but I did not expect to be completely captivated and overcome by it, which is what actually happened. It is presented in such a compelling way you become absorbed by each inmate’s story and exeriences. It is at the same time heart wrenching and informative. Some common threads run through the individual stories yet each is so unique you feel the pain of each individual story. Photographs of each writer, both past and…

  2. Inmates are people first, prisoners second This book has already caused a stir for all the wrong reasons. Various victims’ rights groups have taken issue with this book for the following reasons: (a) that Wally Lamb would devote his time to, of all things, a group of criminals; and (b) that the stories in this book humanize their writers rather than focuses on the victims of their crimes. It is undisputed that the women who wrote these memoirs did a variety of illegal, immoral and awful things. However, if you read these stories,…

  3. Wally Lamb is brilliant as an editor too I bought this book so I could read what a woman from my own community wrote. I expected to get through only her story the night I brought the book home with me. I’d already read other writings of hers, so I figured this woman’s story would be a good read, which it was. After reading that one story, however, I read Mr. Lamb’s intro – then I just couldn’t stop reading. I read the entire book in one sitting! 

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