Author stitches book from correctional facility thread
In a way, author Marie Bostwick's visit to Wilsonville was like any other stop on a book tour. She detailed her unlikely story from precocious reader, to mother of three children, to best-selling author, introduced her most recent book, answered questions from the audience and signed autographs.
But in other ways, it was wholly unique.
Not only was the Friday, Aug. 15, event at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, as opposed to a bookstore or coffee shop, but the women's prison and especially the volunteer-led Coffee Creek Quilters program were instrumental to the story itself.
In fact, "Hope on the Inside," which was published in March, is about a woman who teaches a quilting program at a prison and tries to find ways to connect with her students despite their disparate backgrounds. Bostwick actually did research for the project at Coffee Creek and dedicated the book to the quilting program.
Bostwick, who has written 15 books — including many involving quilting — wanted to write about a prison ever since seeing quilts crafted by adults in custody (AIC) at the International Quilt Festival in Houston, Texas.
"They were evocative and raw," she said. "There was an honesty to them I couldn't stop thinking about."
But Bostwick's only frame of reference for prison life was movies like "Shawshank Redemption." So in her first few attempts of writing prison-related books, she struggled. However, when she decided to frame the book through the vantage of an outsider, the book began to blossom.
"They say 'Write what you know.' I didn't know this world," Bostwick said. "One day I realized I could write it through the lens of somebody like me. They have good hearts but do it exactly wrong. (They make) mistakes."
"Hope on the Inside" is written from the perspective of Hope Carpenter, who gets a job teaching quilting classes at a women's prison. To learn the nuances of prison and a prison quilting program, the native Oregonian — who has lived in Eugene, Portland and Sunriver — decided to set up an appointment to visit Coffee Creek. That day, Bostwick observed the quilting class and ate lunch with volunteers.
"I came into Coffee Creek incognito. My purpose was to research. No one knew I was there to write a book because I wanted them to be naturally themselves," she said.
Bostwick was only there for a day, but the experience inspired some enriching details in the book: bags of Fritos as a prized commodity, an underwire bra setting off the metal detector at the prison's security checkpoint, and the many precautions the prison takes to mitigate risk, like counting the number of alloted pins before and after each session.
"You don't get to leave until all the equipment is back," Bostwick said.
She was struck by the fact that the Coffee Creek quilting program gives many of the quilts away to charity and the strong relationships formed between the volunteers and the AICs. Bostwick said the program in the book is much smaller than Coffee Creek's, which involves about 80 women in custody.
"I don't think there are any programs I've heard of that are quite like Coffee Creek's," she said.
Though relating to the prison experience was something Bostwick initially struggled with while writing the book, she found during the research and writing process that AICs aren't very different from her.
"They may have made a bad decision and had fewer advantages (than me), but women are women," she said.
Bostwick doesn't feel scared for her safety when entering prisons, but did feel a bit nervous when she visited last week. She worried that AICs would tell her that the book was an inauthentic portrayal of prison life.
However, she said she received the opposite response and AICs said they could relate to the struggles of certain characters who wanted to turn their life around but faced challenges such as maintaining connections with their children. The main character in the book, Hope, eventually connects with the AICs through their shared status as mothers.
"Women are mothers. They want to get out and be good moms," she said.
Coffee Creek is known for having a variety of programs for AICs in good behavioral standing to develop skills applicable for the work force. Writing the book reaffirmed Bostwick's beliefs that prisons should be more about rehabilitation than retribution. She hopes the book will inspire more programs like Coffee Creek Quilters.
"My hope and prayer is for others to start quilting programs across the country," Bostwick said.
For more information about Coffee Creek Quilters, visit http://coffeecreekquilters.org/.
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