New documentary premiering Saturday in Northampton features 6 formerly incarcerated women who have overcome adversity through writing

By Madeline Fabian

For the Gazette

Published: 01-27-2023 6:14 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The personal stories of six formerly incarcerated women featured in a new documentary are proof of the power of the pen.

The documentary, “Finding the Words: The Story of Voices from Inside,” will premiere on Saturday at the Academy of Music in Northampton. The film is a collaboration between Arts Equity Group and the city of Northampton, featuring personal stories of once incarcerated women who have overcome adversity through writing.

The documentary aims to inspire empathy for the root causes of incarceration and addiction and points to writing as a tool for healing.

“In the documentary, we hear directly from the women that writing is one of their primary sources of therapy,” said Danielle Amodeo, founder of Arts Equity Group and one of the documentary’s producers. “Most people that have been incarcerated have experienced trauma and often don’t have access to therapy. Writing is a way to explore that trauma individually and to combat shame and guilt often tied to experiences of incarceration and addiction.”

Voices from Inside (VFI) is a Massachusetts organization that has offered ongoing writing workshops for over 1,600 formerly and currently incarcerated women since 1999. VFI writing workshops encourage participants to discover their voices through writing, envision a new future for themselves, and share their stories with the surrounding community.

Daisy Diaz, one of the women featured in the documentary, writes, “Writing set me free from so many secrets I kept. That engulfed me with shame and guilt that didn’t belong to me.”

Since attending her first Voices from Inside writing workshop, Diaz has become a substance abuse counselor, has spoken at the women’s jail in Chicopee and now works at the Young Women’s Christian Association for the Human Trafficking Department.

The premiere event for the documentary will be held as a partnership between the city of Northampton’s Department of Health and Human Services and Arts Equity Group, a consulting firm and network of artists and activists dedicated to fostering change through the arts.

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“This film presents a powerful opportunity for the public to learn about the experiences of people in its community who have been incarcerated and are in recovery,” said Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra in a statement. “We are happy to help the production team amplify the stories of the amazing women featured in the documentary and bring the community together for this special program.”

At the premiere, Sen. Jo Comerford is expected to speak about a bill establishing a five-year moratium on jail and prison construction in Massachusetts, according to Amodeo. Other topics that will be discussed prior to the screening include access to voting, bail, cost of phone calls and lack of support systems for incarcerated people.

Immediately following the premiere screening, a dialogue session between the public, women and filmmakers will be held. Tickets for the 7 p.m. show are free and can be reserved on the Academy of Music website. A live stream option is also available.