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RSS FeedMaking Connections with Lein Scott, Former Persephone Project Participant
Thursday, November 19th, 2015 12:09 PM

by Anita Dacanay

According to the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency:  “Since 2010, the female jail population has been the fastest growing correctional population, increasing by an average annual rate of 3.4 percent.” There is a long list of disturbing statistics regarding various characteristics of the female prison population: Nearly 6 in 10 women in state prisons have experienced physical or sexual abuse in the past. 69 percent reported that the assault occurred before age 18. In 2004, 73% of women in state prisons reported symptoms of mental illness. Women are far more likely to have minor children living with them when arrested than male prisoners.  Considering all of these factors, one begins to appreciate how difficult it is for these women to build a healthy life for themselves upon re-entry. Still Point Managing Director Ben Gray, when asked why so many people are reluctant to give incarcerated women a second chance, recently commented, “Let’s be honest about the fact that many of these women never had a firstchance.”

The ultimate goal of Still Point’s Persephone Project for currently and formerly incarcerated women, is to prevent recidivism. As lofty a goal as it might be, we believe that many of these women can recover and learn to thrive with appropriate support services.

Former program participant Lein Scott spoke to me on the phone recently about her life during and after incarceration, and how programs like the Persephone Project can make a difference.  Lein recalls her life on the streets when she was chemically dependent and involved in prostitution. She is very clear about what has helped her recovery. “Connection,” she said. “You have to seek connection, or you end up alone.” But connection is not easy to come by in jail, and perhaps even harder when emerging from incarceration.

Lein remarks, “There’s such a stigma with incarceration. There’s a perception that you will never change.”

I asked Lein what theatre programs could do for women in prison, and she responded by saying, “You have to always be aware that your story can repeat itself, so you have to keep it in front of you.”  She continued by analyzing how improvisation “breaks it down, and can bring about an understanding. It puts a light on your story.”

Theatre demands many kinds of connections, but Lein’s comments underscore the fact that connection with one’s own truth is paramount. Many Persephone Project participants have affirmed that the program carved a safe space in which the women could be truthful with themselves and each other. Knowing that they would not be judged or attacked, they embarked on a process of honest self-discovery.  Having an avenue for self-reflection, as well as for imagining a different path for themselves in the future, is crucial if participants want to develop a real road map to a better life. Lein affirms the value of having an outlet for individual expression, and the hopefulness of the creative process, “When you perform something, you bring it to life.”

Still Point Founder/Artistic Director Lisa Wagner-Carollo recalls what Lein brought to the Persephone Project at Cook County when she participated. “Lein offered a lot of leadership for the group. She was very committed. She had a great attitude and was very enthusiastic.” Each four month session of workshops that Still Point leads in detention centers ends in an on-site performance. Lein had described herself to me as “kind of dramatic” – and Lisa confirmed this when she recalled Lein’s talent, “She is a great actress! She’s so good on stage.”

The leadership that Lein showed when she participated in our program has continued now that she is released. Lein is working with the Dreamcatcher Foundation, which fights to end human trafficking in Chicago. Their website states: “Our not-for-profit organization works to prevent the sexual exploitation of at-risk youth and helps current prostitutes find confidence and stability beyond the limitations of their current lifestyle.”  Lein acknowledges the challenges involved in making connections with these young people, but the Dreamcatcher Foundation has had success with person to person outreach on the streets, and this is what Lein does. She knows that mentorship made a huge difference in her own life, and now she works to pay that forward.

She also acknowledges the importance of a spiritual focus in her own recovery, “It’s easy to lose initiative… you’ve got to get out of that box, you can’t go back to doing the same things.” She spoke of the importance of being humble, and understanding of other people’s circumstances.

After our conversation, I reflected more deeply on the significance of Lein’s words: “You have to seek connection, or you end up alone.” That is a profound truth of the human experience.

For more information on the Dreamcatcher Foundation, please visit:
Statistics on women and incarceration:

Lein Scott, former Persephone Project participant

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