The spring of my junior year of undergrad, my boss at the time Dr. Robert Pyne met two women for lunch. These two women – teachers, mothers, and now grandmothers – came with disappointing news. An education program they had founded and championed for more than 15 years was ending officially, and they were heartbroken. Sharing the news turned into wistful memories that turned into happy, uplifting memories that turned into belly-laughter memories.
Two hours later, a text message popped up on my screen from my boss — “Hey Maggie, do you want to write a book?”
I sat and stared. I mean, yes, of course I do, I always five or six writing projects scurrying around my mind at any one time, but why the out of the blue question? Finding myself to answer in text, I walked over to the office, leaned in his doorway, and said “um, yes?”
I then heard the first description of two women I’d come to call role models and friends. Ginny VandenBranden and Harriet Schoenebeck – two former teachers who had found their way to a men’s maximum security correctional center in Green Bay, Wisconsin and decided to make a difference. Dr. Pyne talked about their long lunch and how more and more stories kept being brought up – shared between the two old women who loved the chance to catch up and remember “their guys.” At the end of the date Dr. Pyne said, “You two should write a book.”
Two hours later, I was the author.
Ginny and Harriet co-founded a program called Challenges and Possibilities, an educational, restorative, and whole-person focused course for men at the prison. During their semester together, the class would explore the impact of crime, how to make a positive change, the definition of justice, stoic philosophy, how courts and judges work, how to get a job and pay for necessities, and how to appreciate art. But the crown jewel of the program was Restorative Justice, co-facilitated by former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske.
Over the next year and the half I traveled across the state to meet with their speakers and participants. The stories I came home with made me laugh, cry, smile, and yell in anger. There are stories about Harriet being called into the warden’s office and having someone yell – “Now, what the hell do you want, Harriet?” Another of all the men teasing Ginny about her size by picking their feet off the ground and swaying them like she was.
Harriet says the reason she loved working in the prison was because every day there was a little miracle. In my book, I want to share those miracles with you to bring some hope into the correctional system and inspire a change towards restorative values and human dignity.
This book is an ongoing project. At the moment, I have documents with dozens of hours of recorded interviews, binders with reams of letters from the incarcerated men to the speakers, and newspaper clips about the program from around the state. I hope you’ll enjoy following me on this journey as I put this project together and will support the project when the book is complete.